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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 4

Subject:

Sea Levels Rising at Fastest Rate in 2000 Years

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Date:

Wed, 22 Jun 2011 21:39:23 -0400

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Sea Levels Rising at Fastest Rate in 2000 Years

By Samantha Oltman
Wed Jun. 22, 2011 12:00 PM PDT

http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/06/new-study-sea-level-rise-global-warming

The science behind a new report in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences journal is complicated, but
the evidence is more precise than it has ever been: Sea
levels are now rising at a faster rate than they were at
any time in the past 2,000 years. For much of the two
millenia measured in the study, sea levels were either
stabilized or rising at .25 millimeters per year. But
right around the end of the 19th century, sea levels
started rising at a comparatively drastic 2.1 millimeters
per year, and the trend has continued today.

The study marks a huge advancement in the science of
measuring sea level changes because for the first time,
scientists have recorded a precise and continuous record
of sea level changes dating back over two millenia. This
record, which the study based on salt marsh microfossil
records from North Carolina's coast, shows that sea level
changes for the past millenium have correspended to global
temperatures. When the world started warming up, sea
levels rose. When it cooled, they stabilized.

I talked with Ben Horton, one of the study's authors and
an environmental scientist at the University of
Pennsylvania, to put some of the science behind these
findings into layman's terms:


Mother Jones: What did you discover in this study?
Ben Horton: Over 2000 years, sea-level rise had four
stages. During the first stage from 0 A.D. to the 10th
century, sea level was stable. From the 10th century to
the 14th century, sea level rose less than 1 millimeter
per year. Then, during the third state, from the 14th to
latter part of 19th century, sea level was stable. But the
20th century shows that sea level is rising far faster
than it did in any of the previous years.

MJ: So what does this mean?
BH: [For example,] the findings show that in the Medieval
period, when global temperatures rose, sea level rose too.
Then, in the Little Ice Age, sea level was stable. We have
four stages that show an incredibly close relationship
between sea level rise and global temperature.

MJ: A chart related to your study compares the proxy
reconstructions it used to sea-level observations and
models of sea-level estimates. What exactly are proxy
reconstructions, and why did your study use them?
BH: A proxy is the application of a biological,
archeological, or any indicator of environmental
variables. [For our proxy,] we used salt marsh records,
focusing on the microfossils in them. If you want to look
into the past of sea levels, you have to use proxies
because reliable tide gauges based on observation only go
back a hundred years or so.

Different ways to measure sea level over time.

MJ: Why are the study's findings such a big deal?
BH: We've produced an important body of data. Future
predictions of sea level rise models can now be turned on
their heads and compared to this data about what happened
in the past. If they don't align, then there's something
wrong with your model that you can investigate... maybe
there's a problem with your data set.

In the next three to five years, there will be a huge
advancement in understanding of past sea levels, which
will hopefully lead to a huge improvement in the precision
of reconstructions for the 21st century.  If we can
improve our understanding of sea level in the past, then
our understanding of the future will be more clear.

MJ: Based on these findings, what do you think will happen
to sea levels in the future?
BH: We know in the future that temperatures are predicted
to rise, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know sea
levels are going to go up.

MJ: And if sea levels continue to rise, how will it impact
our world?
BH: If sea level rises, it has implications to coastlines,
[such as] flooding and saltwater intrustion into
freshwater. The more sea level rises, the greater the
problems society and also natural ecosystems will face.

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