Sea Level

In their report published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that sea level is likely to rise between 18 and 59 centimetres by 2100, threatening the homes and livelihoods of millions who live in low-lying and deltaic regions. This focus draws together studies of past and present sea-level change, and predictions for future fluctuations, as well as presenting insights into the challenges facing coastal communities.



Adjustable adaptation pp447


Humans have been responding to fluctuating sea levels for millennia. Adapting to future change will require a swift start on developing innovative infrastructure while keeping the option to adjust in the long term.



Dutch coasts in transition pp450 - 452

Pavel Kabat, Louise O. Fresco, Marcel J. F. Stive, Cees P. Veerman, Jos S. L. J. van Alphen, Bart W. A. H. Parmet, Wilco Hazeleger & Caroline A. Katsman


The Netherlands has a long and varied history of coastal and river flood management. The anticipation of sea-level rise during the twenty-first century has renewed the push for sustainable solutions to coastal vulnerability.

Land waters and sea level pp452 - 454

Dennis P. Lettenmaier and P.C.D. Milly


Changes in continental water stores, largely human-induced, affect sea level. Better hydrological models and observations could clarify the land's role in sea-level variations.



Relocating Odysseus' homeland pp455 - 458

John Underhill


Homer's Ithaca had been viewed as a work of poetic licence and imprecise geography. However, as recent research shows the island's form may have been disguised over the past two millennia by catastrophic rockfalls, co-seismic uplift events and relative sea-level change.


Books & Arts

Living on the edge pp459

Robert J. Nicholls


Robert Nicholls reviews The Rising Sea by Orrin H. Pilkey & Rob Young


News & Views

Palaeoceanography: Broken greenhouse windows pp465 - 466

Kenneth G. Miller


Large and rapid global sea-level changes indicate that polar ice sheets may have ephemerally existed during the Cretaceous greenhouse climate. Two oxygen isotopic studies provide evidence for and against this conclusion.



Identifying the causes of sea-level change pp471 - 478

Glenn A. Milne, W. Roland Gehrels, Chris W. Hughes and Mark E. Tamisiea


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. A review of the latest work shows that global mean sea-level rise is unlikely to exceed one metre over the twenty-first century, but regional departures from this global mean could reach several decimetres.



Drowning of the Mississippi Delta due to insufficient sediment supply and global sea-level rise pp488 - 491

Michael D. Blum and Harry H. Roberts


Global sea-level rise, reduced sediment supply and subsidence threaten the stability of the Mississippi Delta. Calculations of riverine sediment load and storage indicate that 10,000–13,500 km2 of the delta could be submerged by AD 2100.

Rapid early Holocene retreat of a Laurentide outlet glacier through an Arctic fjord pp496 - 499

Jason P. Briner, Aaron C. Bini, Robert S. Anderson


Marine-terminating outlet glaciers control the stability of ice sheets. Exposure ages and radiocarbon dates show that an Arctic outlet glacier of the Laurentide ice sheet rapidly retreated about 9,500 years ago, and imply strong feedbacks between bathymetry and ice movement.

Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles pp500 - 504

E. J. Rohling, K. Grant, M. Bolshaw, A. P. Roberts, M. Siddall, Ch. Hemleben & M. Kucera


Sea level has varied by over one hundred metres across glacial-interglacial cycles over the past 520,000 years. An extended sea-level reconstruction shows a strong coupling between these sea-level changes and Antarctic surface temperatures over the past five glacial cycles.


From the archives

Sustaining coastal urban ecosystems

Torbjörn E. Törnqvist & Douglas J. Meffert


The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season once again highlighted the challenges awaiting low-lying population centres close to the ocean. In the face of global sea-level rise, unconventional thinking is required to make urban coasts more resilient.

A coast in decline


Orrin H. Pilkey reviews Sea Change: Britain's Coastal Catastrophe by Richard Girling

Geomorphology: Survive or subside?

John W. Day & Liviu Giosan


Deltas are among the most valuable coastal ecosystems, but they are very dynamic and the factors that influence their health are complex. The rate of compaction of underlying sediments might be a more significant factor than was thought.

Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States

Jianjun Yin, Michael E. Schlesinger & Ronald J. Stouffer


Human-induced climate change is expected to cause sea-level rise globally as well as regionally. An analysis of state-of-the-art climate models indicates that the northeastern US coast is particularly likely to experience substantial rises in regional sea level as a result of the projected slowdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modellin

Eric Rignot, Jonathan L. Bamber, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Curt Davis, Yonghong Li, Willem Jan van de Berg & Erik van Meijgaard


Observed estimates of ice losses in Antarctica combined with regional modelling of ice accumulation in the interior suggest that East Antarctica is close to a balanced mass budget, but large losses of ice occur in the narrow outlet channels of West Antarctic glaciers and at the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula.

High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period

E. J. Rohling, K. Grant, Ch. Hemleben, M. Siddall, B. A. A. Hoogakker, M. Bolshaw & M. Kucera


Sea level during the last interglacial stood at least 4 m higher than at present, with evidence of short-term fluctuations of up to 10 m. A new continuous sea level record from the Red Sea and coral ages suggest that during these fluctuations, sea level changes were on the order of 1.6 m per century.

Rapid early Holocene deglaciation of the Laurentide ice sheet

Anders E. Carlson, Allegra N. LeGrande, Delia W. Oppo, Rosemarie E. Came, Gavin A. Schmidt, Faron S. Anslow, Joseph M. Licciardi & Elizabeth A. Obbink


The demise of the Laurentide ice sheet during the early Holocene epoch allows rates of ice sheet decay under natural conditions to be assessed. Analysis of terrestrial and marine records of the deglaciation along with a climate model reveal two periods of rapid melting during the final retreat of this ice sheet, with rates of sea level rise of up to 1.3 cm per year.

Stepwise transition from the Eocene greenhouse to the Oligocene icehouse

Miriam E. Katz, Kenneth G. Miller, James D. Wright, Bridget S. Wade, James V. Browning, Benjamin S. Cramer & Yair Rosenthal


The Eocene-Oligocene transition is the largest global cooling in the Cenozoic period. A comparison of three independent proxies from the continental shelf and deep ocean reveals a three-step transition to cold glacial conditions, with ice sheets 25% larger than their present size.

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