Review abstract

Nature Geoscience 2, 471 - 478 (2009)
Published online: 14 June 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo544

Subject Categories: Climate science | Oceanography

Identifying the causes of sea-level change

Glenn A. Milne1, W. Roland Gehrels2, Chris W. Hughes3 & Mark E. Tamisiea3

Global mean sea-level change has increased from a few centimetres per century over recent millennia to a few tens of centimetres per century in recent decades. This tenfold increase in the rate of rise can be attributed to climate change through the melting of land ice and the thermal expansion of ocean water. As the present warming trend is expected to continue, global mean sea level will continue to rise. Here we review recent insights into past sea-level changes on decadal to millennial timescales and how they may help constrain future changes. We find that most studies constrain global mean sea-level rise to less than one metre over the twenty-first century, but departures from this global mean could reach several decimetres in many areas. We conclude that improving estimates of the spatial variability in future sea-level change is an important research target in coming years.

  1. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa, Marion Hall, 140 Louis Pasteur, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada
  2. School of Geography, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
  3. Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Joseph Proudman Building, 6 Brownlow Street, Liverpool L3 5DA, UK.

Correspondence to: Glenn A. Milne1 e-mail:


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