There is a relationship between how much CO2 is in the atmosphere and sea level. More CO2 means a warmer atmosphere and that means less long term (glacial) ice and that means more sea water. Also, a warmer planet means the ocean water is warmer, and thus it expands, and that also contributes to sea level rise.
However, there is something of a falsehood generated when we read estimates of sea level rise. The straight forward link between CO2 and sea level (via heating oceans and melting ice) leads to estimates that are very small for sea level rise. We see things like “1.8 mm per year” which would be a very small number that does not seem like much of a threat. This is a falsehood for several reasons. The variation in sea level linked to a given level of CO2 is potentially great, in the order of meters; one level of CO2 could produce a wide range of sea levels, with a range of variation way bigger than the total sea level rise with annual increments like 1.8 mm. Sea level rise of seemingly small amounts, i.e. several centimeters, produce lateral (transgressive) shifts in the sea of potentially much greater amounts. This transgression can be fast, or it can be longer term. We are still experiencing the transgression from the post-glacial sea level rise that slowed to nearly a halt thousands of years ago. Meanwhile, coastal storms can be much more likely to flood inland with higher seas. All this means that the time scale of effects varies from days (storms) to decades (barrier beach erosion) to centuries (erosion against more stable coastal areas made of consolidated sediment) to millennia (erosion of major glacial features) to time periods that transcend climate change (erosion of continental bedrock). The scale of past sea level change is enormous, larger than any possible future sea level rise, but the “worst case” scenarios for the future are both dramatic and not all that unlikely. All this comes from taking a paleo-perspective on sea level change. In short, when we paleo-people hear estimates of a few millimeters a year of sea level rise over a century’s time, we laugh. Nervously.
I’ve written up a much more extensive analysis of sea level rise from a paleo-perspective as part of the Daily Kos Climate Change SOS Blogathon. You must click here and read my post and make comments on it or the Daily Kos will totally fire me. What are you waiting for?
Meanwhile, here is the list of the other amazing and wonderful blog posts that make up this Blogathon so far. I’ll update it to include all the posts later:
Climate Change Blogathon at Daily Kos!
- Reports of Climate Change from Your Backyard: I
- Romney’s Illiteracy & Election Vulnerability
- Could better analysis save humanity?
- Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world
- Climate Challenge: Two Questions For Mitt Romney
- Visions of the Future?
- Why Climate Literacy Matters
- Are Americans Waking Up?
- Distributed Ecology
- Ignore climate Cassandra at our peril
- Building Resilience in a Changing Climate
- Climate change just isn’t Santa anymore
- We Really Can’t Afford to Wait
- Solutions for a way forward
- We are not just berries and fish
- A Tiny Island in a Sea of Change
- Cities Key To Low Carbon Future
- Breaking Up With Polluters To Save The Climate
- Soil is the Solution, or the most important environmental story I’ll ever write
- It’?s time we face the truth
- Climate Change SOS: Five Recent Hits From The Climate Letter Project
- What did you do once you knew?
- Breaking Romney’s eerie silence on climate change
- Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers
- Take it from Yale: What we really need to communicate about climate change
- Move Beyond Coal Now! The Global Anti-Coal Movement Is Here
- Which Side Are You On
- Attacks on climate change education are attacks on our future
- Time Is Wasting
- Karl Burkart: The Solutions to Climate Change are within our Grasp
- Raspberries, Salmon, Hops: Personal loss and climate change
- “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”
- Where Was the Gas?
- Climate Change and Congress
- Our Nation’s Children, Calling on a President to Avert the Climate Crisis
- Leadership, Partisanship, and Public Opinion
- From Birmingham to Bamako: How Farmers Deal with Drought
Sea Level Rise…Extreme History, Uncertain Future