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The drivers behind rising sea levels

Sea-level rise is one of the most visible and costly effects of climate change, as 10 % of the world's population lives within 10 m of mean sea level. Researchers are therefore studying some of the factors responsible for changes in sea level to increase the accuracy of sea-level–rise predictions.
The drivers behind rising sea levels
As coastal development increases and sea level continues to rise, the number of people and the value of assets exposed to this threat will continue to increase. Therefore, society must adapt and its protection be enhanced in order to minimise damage and economic losses. However, for adaptation policy to be effective, policymakers require accurate predictions of regional changes in sea level.

Understanding of the processes behind sea-level variability is still limited due to their complex nature. This is because they involve various local, regional and global aspects over different timescales, making it difficult to reliably project future sea-level rises.

The EU-funded project 'The forcing of sea level rise in the Arctic, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea' (FORSEANAM) addressed this challenge. The initiative was set up to explore the mechanisms responsible for low-frequency (seasonal or longer) sea-level variability in three major water bodies. The project identified key processes to enable scientists to refine sea-level projections for the future.

To achieve their aims, project partners used multiple data sets, both in situ and satellite-based, as well as ocean models and theory. The results achieved have significantly improved scientific understanding of the issue.

For example, the project demonstrated that sea levels along the European coast exhibit considerable decadal-scale fluctuations. These results clearly indicate that regional variability must be included in impact assessments so that appropriate sea-level–rise adaptation policies and strategies can be implemented.

FORSEANAM has also produced a global sea level reconstruction for the period 1900–2011 by combining satellite data and ocean measurements. This reconstruction indicates that the global mean sea level rose about 20 cm during the 20th century.

Scientists have also detected a recent acceleration in sea-level rise, which is increasing over time and is the result of human activities. Such acceleration may continue to increase as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising. In addition, project partners found that further work is needed to improve the predictive capability of storm surge models.

Researchers were able to estimate the contribution of internal climate variability to recent sea-level accelerations. These and future results are expected to provide a scientific platform through which stakeholders can gain training and establish multidisciplinary collaborations with leading scientists.

Related information


Sea-level rise, climate change, coastal development, ocean models, greenhouse gas
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