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Understanding Sea-level Rise and Variability



Understanding Sea-Level Rise and Variability identifies the major impacts of sea-level rise, presents up-to-date assessments of past sea-level change, thoroughly explores all of the factors contributing to sea-level rise, and explores how sea-level extreme events might change. It identifies what is known in each area and what research and observations are required to reduce the uncertainties in our understanding of sea-level rise so that more reliable future projections can be made. A synthesis of findings provides a concise summary of past, present and future sea-level rise and its impacts on society.

Key Features:

  • Book includes contributions from a range of international sea level experts
  • Multidisciplinary
  • Four color throughout
  • Describes the limits of our understanding of this crucial issue as well as pointing to directions for future research

The book is for everyone interested in sea-level rise and its impacts, including policy makers, research funders, scientists, students, coastal managers and engineers.

Additional resources for this book can be found at:

Related Resources

Editor Biographies x

List of Contributors xi

Foreword xvii

Acknowledgments xix

Abbreviations and Acronyms xxii

1 Introduction 1
Philip L. Woodworth, John A. Church, Thorkild Aarup, and W. Stanley Wilson

References 15

2 Impacts of and Responses to Sea-Level Rise 17
Robert J. Nicholls

2.1 Introduction 17

2.2 Climate Change and Global/Relative Sea-Level Rise 18

2.3 Sea-Level Rise and Resulting Impacts 22

2.4 Framework and Methods for the Analysis of Sea-Level-Rise Impacts 25

2.5 Recent Impacts of Sea-Level Rise 27

2.6 Future Impacts of Sea-Level Rise 30

2.7 Responding to Sea-Level Rise 37

2.8 Next Steps 40

2.9 Concluding Remarks 41

Acknowledgments 43

References 43

3 A First-Order Assessment of the Impact of Long-Term Trends in Extreme Sea Levels on Offshore Structures and Coastal Refineries 52
Ralph Rayner and Bev MacKenzie

3.1 Introduction 52

3.2 Design Considerations 54

3.3 Impact of Long-Term Trends in Extreme Sea Levels 55

3.4 Evaluating the Economic Impact 57

3.5 Conclusions 58

References 59

4 Paleoenvironmental Records, Geophysical Modeling, and Reconstruction of Sea-Level Trends and Variability on Centennial and Longer Timescales 61
Kurt Lambeck, Colin D. Woodroffe, Fabrizio Antonioli, Marco Anzidei, W. Roland Gehrels, Jacques Laborel, and Alex J. Wright

4.1 Introduction 61

4.2 Past Sea-Level Changes 62

4.3 Sea-Level Indicators 73

4.4 Geophysical Modeling of Variability in Relative Sea-Level History 84

4.5 Regional Case Studies 88

4.6 Discussion and Conclusions 95

Acknowledgments 105

References 105

5 Modern Sea-Level-Change Estimates 122
Gary T. Mitchum, R. Steven Nerem, Mark A. Merrifield, and W. Roland Gehrels

5.1 Introduction 122

5.2 Estimates from Proxy Sea-Level Records 123

5.3 Estimates of Global Sea-Level Change from Tide Gauges 126

5.4 Estimates of Global Sea-Level Change from Satellite Altimetry 133

5.5 Recommendations 137

Acknowledgments 138

References 138

6 Ocean Temperature and Salinity Contributions to Global and Regional Sea-Level Change 143
John A. Church, Dean Roemmich, Catia M. Domingues, Josh K. Willis, Neil J. White, John E. Gilson, Detlef Stammer, Armin Köhl, Don P. Chambers, Felix W. Landerer, Jochem Marotzke, Jonathan M. Gregory, Tatsuo Suzuki, Anny Cazenave, and Pierre-Yves Le Traon

6.1 Introduction 143

6.2 Direct Estimates of Steric Sea-Level Rise 145

6.3 Estimating Steric Sea-Level Change Using Ocean Syntheses 152

6.4 Inferring Steric Sea Level from Time-Variable Gravity and Sea Level 154

6.5 Modeling Steric Sea-Level Rise 156

6.6 Conclusions and Recommendations 166

Acknowledgments 168

References 168

7 Cryospheric Contributions to Sea-Level Rise and Variability 177
Konrad Steffen, Robert H. Thomas, Eric Rignot, J. Graham Cogley, Mark B. Dyurgerov, Sarah C.B. Raper, Philippe Huybrechts, and Edward Hanna

7.1 Introduction 177

7.2 Mass-Balance Techniques 178

7.3 Ice-Sheet Mass Balance 180

7.4 Mass Balance of Glaciers and Ice Caps 192

7.5 Glacier, Ice-Cap, and Ice-Sheet Modeling 200

7.6 Summary and Recommendations 210

References 214

8 Terrestrial Water-Storage Contributions to Sea-Level Rise and Variability 226
P.C.D. (Chris) Milly, Anny Cazenave, James S. Famiglietti, Vivien Gornitz, Katia Laval, Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Dork L. Sahagian, John M. Wahr, and Clark R. Wilson

8.1 Introduction 226

8.2 Analysis Tools 229

8.3 Climate-Driven Changes of Terrestrial Water Storage 236

8.4 Direct Anthropogenic Changes of Terrestrial Water Storage 241

8.5 Synthesis 246

8.6 Recommendations 248

References 249

9 Geodetic Observations and Global Reference Frame Contributions to Understanding Sea-Level Rise and Variability 256
Geoff Blewitt, Zuheir Altamimi, James Davis, Richard Gross, Chung-Yen Kuo, Frank G. Lemoine, Angelyn W. Moore, Ruth E. Neilan, Hans-Peter Plag, Markus Rothacher, C.K. Shum, Michael G. Sideris, Tilo Schöne, Paul Tregoning, and Susanna Zerbini

9.1 Introduction 256

9.2 Global and Regional Reference Systems 263

9.3 Linking GPS to Tide Gauges and Tide-Gauge Benchmarks 274

9.4 Recommendations for Geodetic Observations 279

Acknowledgments 281

References 281

10 Surface Mass Loading on a Dynamic Earth: Complexity and Contamination in the Geodetic Analysis of Global Sea-Level Trends 285
Jerry X. Mitrovica, Mark E. Tamisiea, Erik R. Ivins, L.L.A. (Bert) Vermeersen, Glenn A. Milne, and Kurt Lambeck

10.1 Introduction 285

10.2 Glacial Isostatic Adjustment 290

10.3 Sea Level, Sea Surface, and the Geoid 300

10.4 Rapid Melting and Sea-Level Fingerprints 302

10.5 Great Earthquakes 308

10.6 Final Remarks 311

Acknowledgments 313

References 313

11 Past and Future Changes in Extreme Sea Levels and Waves 326
Jason A. Lowe, Philip L. Woodworth, Tom Knutson, Ruth E. McDonald, Kathleen L. McInnes, Katja Woth,
Hans von Storch, Judith Wolf, Val Swail, Natacha B. Bernier, Sergey Gulev, Kevin J. Horsburgh, Alakkat S. Unnikrishnan, John R. Hunter, and Ralf Weisse

11.1 Introduction 326

11.2 Evidence for Changes in Extreme Sea Levels and Waves in the Recent Past 327

11.3 Mid-Latitude and Tropical Storms: Changes in the Atmospheric Drivers of Extreme Sea Level 337

11.4 Future Extreme Water Levels 346

11.5 Future Research Needs 357

11.6 Conclusions 361

Acknowledgments 361

References 361

12 Observing Systems Needed to Address Sea-Level Rise and Variability 376
W. Stanley Wilson, Waleed Abdalati, Douglas Alsdorf, Jérôme Benveniste, Hans Bonekamp, J. Graham Cogley, Mark R. Drinkwater, Lee-Lueng Fu, Richard Gross, Bruce J. Haines, D.E. Harrison, Gregory C. Johnson, Michael Johnson, John L. LaBrecque, Eric J. Lindstrom, Mark A. Merrifi eld, Laury Miller, Erricos C. Pavlis, Stephen Piotrowicz, Dean Roemmich, Detlef Stammer, Robert H. Thomas, Eric Thouvenot, and Philip L. Woodworth

12.1 Introduction 376

12.2 Sustained, Systematic Observing Systems (Existing Capabilities) 377

12.3 Development of Improved Observing Systems (New Capabilities) 390

12.4 Summary 398

References 400

13 Sea-Level Rise and Variability: Synthesis and Outlook for the Future 402
John A. Church, Thorkild Aarup, Philip L. Woodworth, W. Stanley Wilson, Robert J. Nicholls, Ralph Rayner, Kurt Lambeck, Gary T. Mitchum, Konrad Steffen, Anny Cazenave, Geoff Blewitt, Jerry X. Mitrovica, and Jason A. Lowe

13.1 Historical Sea-Level Change 403

13.2 Why is Sea Level Rising? 405

13.3 The Regional Distribution of Sea-Level Rise 408

13.4 Projections of Sea-Level Rise for the 21st Century and Beyond 409

13.5 Changes in Extreme Events 412

13.6 Sea Level and Society 412

References 416

Index 421

The book is written in an elegant and inviting writing style. The book is quite thoroughly searched. It is also
open and honest about uncertainty. Understanding Sea-level Rise and Variability is full of information, cases and
methodologies. The book is for everyone interested in sea-level rise and its impacts, including policy makers, engineers, researchers, university teachers and students.”  (International Journal of Climate Change
Strategies and Management
, 1 January 2013)

“In summary, then, this book provides a synthesis of findings regarding sea level rise and its impacts on society.  It should be on the desk of everyone concerned about sea level rise and its impacts, not only geoscientists and their research funders, but also policymakers and coastal managers.”  (Geology Today, 1 September 2012)

"In deciphering the many questions regarding the roles of isostacy, tectonics and neotectonics in sea level change, this excellently and vividly illustrated book shows that geoscientists have much to add to the debate, especially given their knowledge of the effects of sea level change in deep time. Each chapter is written by a panel of authorities on its topic. The result is a book with much to interest and intrigue geoscientists, coastal engineers and others concerned about modern-day sea level change, and a timely summary given the situation now facing many lowland areas…It should be on the desk of everyone concerned about sea level rise and its impacts, including not only geoscientists and their research funders, but also policymakers and coastal managers." (Geology Today, July 2012)

“Having a structured and insightful book such as this text to back up and illustrate the present findings of sea level rise to spectators at a non-scientific conference is helpful...In little more than a dozen chapters, the editors explore and present a comprehensive outlook of the factors contributing to sea level rise and how that relates to probable extreme events in the near future. It also defines the strong and weak points in the present research and makes observations to reduce the uncertainties in the global understanding of sea level rise. The book is for students, scientists, educators on climate change, coastal managers, developers, engineers, and legislators. It is not only for people interested in the subject to better plan for the future, especially around coastal zones, but for those honestly concerned about the social impact of sea level rise and the future shape of humanity in the remaining of the 21st century." (Bulletin of Marine Science, June 2012)

“This excellent volume concludes with a chapter synthesising sea-level rise and variability and considering the future outlook for the subject. . . It will indeed make a valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in sea-level rise and its impacts." (The Holocene, 21(7) 1173-1176, 28 September 2011)

“The book is generally of a high quality and well presented with few weak papers." (Ocean Challenge, Vol. 18, Number: 3, July 2011)

“It's a very comprehensive and important aide to understanding a globally vital subject." (Baird Maritime, 3 February 2012)

“The book is intellectually rigorous and is open and honest about uncertainty. Its recommendations for the future research agenda are refreshing and it has signposted the way forward." (Quaternary Science Reviews, 2011)

"In summary, I strongly recommend this book because of its thorough and exhaustive discussion on all aspects of sea-level rise due to climate change. Virtually every researcher and student of earth system can find something in it that links his/her field of interest to the broad canvas of research on sea-level rise. There is useful material in it too for the policymaker concerned with management of coastlines and islands to confront the sea-level rise. " (India Current Science, Vol. 101, No. 5, September 2011)

"The editors of this fine book, themselves leading sea-level researchers, have assembled a galaxy of contributing authors to provide a comprehensive and insightful understanding of sea-level rise and variability. The 13 chapters cover all aspects of the topic in considerable detail, and together comprise a reference volume/monograph of sea-level knowledge of great value to the global sea-level community." (African Journal of Marine Science, 2011)

“…for the sea-level specialist it is a comprehensive and beautifully presented book." (Australian Archaeology, 1 June 2011)

“The book certainly made for an enjoyable and educational read; as could be expected, I found especially rewarding the chapters outside my own professional comfort zone. We need to be talking more." (Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, 2011)

"This book explains the lot. It's not escapist fare but it's crystal clear." (The Australian, 26 November 2010)

"This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in coastal science and engineering and sea level history, as well as for anyone seeking documentation for global change. It would make an excellent text for a graduate-level course or seminar."(EOS, Vol. 92, No. 18, 3 May 2011)

"....a reliable and definitive contribution to the literature on this sometimes controversial subject." (Terra et Aqua, Number 123, June 2011)

"....condenses a vast amount of information into one book" (Oceanography, Vol.24, No.2)

“…nicely summarises the state of knowledge to date in clear language that communicates well to the lay person, as well as to the technical specialist interested in navigation design or operational details related to sea level.” (The World Association for Waterborne Transportation – PIANC E- Newsletter, December 2010)