News & Events

Noon seminar - Realistic and useful predictions of sea level in the next 100 years

Monday, February 22, 2010, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Tad Pfeffer



RL-3 620

Prediction of future sea level rise ranks as one of the most urgent, specific, and publicly visible tasks facing the climatological, oceanographic, and glaciological research communities. Published research on sea level rise to date tends to focus on understanding physical processes, on end-point predictions (e.g. sea level rise by 2100, ultimate sea level rise under future equilibrium conditions, etc), and on outlier events (e.g. collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet). Policy makers and planners, on the other hand, need information on near-term rates (e.g. estimated sea level rise decade-by-decade) qualified by uncertainties. Predictions in the near-term require careful incorporation of all sources of sea level rise, including those sources which may be second-order effects in the long-term but which dominate initially. These predictions require that some conclusions be drawn about processes which at present are poorly understood (e.g. iceberg calving) and also require data which are incomplete at this time (e.g. comprehensive mass balance assessments of glaciers and ice caps exclusive of the two ice sheets). The qualified prediction of sea level rise on multiple time scales thus has aspects of an applied science or engineering problem, whereas the current model of funding for this research is one of basic science. This disparity complicates timely progress toward usable results.