'Seas will rise for 300 years'

Chelsea Harvey, E&E News
25 Feb 2018

A striking new study published  in Nature Communications suggests that sea-level rise—one of the biggest consequences of global warming—will still be happening 300 years from now, even if humans stop emitting greenhouse gases before 2100.

What's more, the longer it takes to start reducing global emissions, the higher those future sea levels will be. The study suggests that for every additional five years it takes for emissions to peak and start falling—for instance, if emissions were to reach their maximum levels in the year 2030, as opposed to 2025—sea levels will rise an additional 8 inches by the year 2300.

"The Paris Agreement calls for emissions to peak as soon as possible," researcher Carl-Friedrich Schleussner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the study's co-authors, said in a statement about the new paper. "This might sound like a hollow phrase to some, but our results show that there are quantifiable consequences of delaying action."

The study emphasizes an important scientific concern about the progression of climate change—that its effects don't always occur immediately, or even quickly in some cases. Even after humans stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue rising before they finally stabilize, potentially for decades. And even after temperatures stop rising, other effects of climate change may continue to go on for hundreds of years.

Sea-level rise is one example. Rising seas are caused by the combination of a number of different processes, including the warming of the ocean, which causes the water to expand in volume, and the melting of glaciers—particularly from the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Both of these processes may continue long after human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have come to a halt.

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