Scientists’ Concerns Challenge Conservative Sea-Level Rise Projections

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This month’s Yale Forum ‘This Is Not Cool’ video explores scientific research raising questions about whether projections of sea-level rise in a warmer climate have been overly conservative.


Independent videographer Peter Sinclair, a regular contributor to The Yale Forum, in this month’s post explores the views of several leading scientists on prospects for sea-level rise in coming years.

“We still are potentially underestimating the instability of the ice sheets,” Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam University in Germany cautions.

The video uses a clip from a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) video to describe how an international team of scientists is using sophisticated equipment to take measurements some 500 meters below the Antarctic ice shelf. Their instruments are measuring not only ice loss, but also temperature, salinity, and speed of melt. “At one location, they found melt rates of more than two inches per day,” the NASA narrator says.

Pointing to Arctic ice-melt, Penn State University climate scientist Richard Alley advises that ice in Greenland “is very tightly tied to temperature, and if it gets too hot, it goes away. ‘Too hot’ is not very many degrees from where we are now.”

University of Massachusetts geologist Julie Brigham Grette explains how her research on the Pleiocene Epoch raises troubling parallels with what scientists are seeing now. Grette expresses concerns that “the Arctic can become very quickly very warm, and that warmer environment is reaching a point where increasing melt of places like Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is almost inevitable.”

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