ONE hundred and fifty million people worldwide are at risk from rising sea levels, according to a leading climate change scientist based in Southampton.
A new international study based in the city has found “convincing evidence” the sea level has been rising over the past 200 years – and will continue to do so.
Warming of the oceans and the melting of the glaciers and ice sheets are the cause of the sea level rise, said Dr Svetlana Jevrejeva from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, who co-authored a research paper.
It will mean communities based on Hampshire’s coastline, which have already faced a stormy winter, will be battling stronger elements in years to come.
She said: “There is a huge inertia in the climate system, so even if we stop the warming of our planet now – if we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today – the global sea level will continue to rise for the next few hundred years.
“We are facing a colossal challenge – to deal with carbon emissions as soon as possible.”
The vulnerability of extensively populated coastal areas, the threats to infrastructure, and population migration are major concerns for society, Dr Jevrejeva said.
“Fifteen of the world’s 20 megacities, with populations of more than 10 million, are sensitive to sea level rise and increased coastal storm surges.
“Soon we will have to make very hard decisions in the UK and globally: Which coastal area is going to be protected and which could be abandoned?
“It means that as a civilization we are not able to protect some of our cultural heritage, unique beaches and cliffs.”
Called Trends and Acceleration in Global and Regional Sea Levels since 1807, the study looked at global sea level reconstruction based on 1,277 tide gauge records dating from 1807 to 2010.
Tide gauge observations suggest that sea level rose by six centimetres during the 19th century, 19 centimetres during the 20th century, and the sea level has continued to rise this century.
Sea level is considered as an indicator of the health of our planet storing more than 90 per cent of the energy in the climate system, resulting in ocean thermal expansion and hence sea level rise.
Over the past 2,000 years, sea level was almost stable but since the 1800s it has started to rise.
In addition, the warming ocean is playing an important role in supplying the heat to the polar region, contributing to the ice loss from ice sheets.