Director of Erb Institute | Business for Sustainability among Climate Experts Advancing Knowledge of Sea Level Projections

Aug 12, 2017 8:00 AM ET

In a compelling analysis of the factors that affect how much the ocean will rise along California’s coast in coming decades, a seven-member team of experts led by UC Santa Cruz geologist Gary Griggs has issued a report on the best-available sea-level rise science.

The report includes recent scientific advances on the role of polar ice loss and new information on the expected sea level changes that will occur based on different greenhouse gas emission scenarios. For example, with very successful mitigation efforts, the report states that there is a 67 percent probability that the Bay Area will experience  between 1.0 foot and 2.4 feet by 2100. However, if no significant mitigation efforts are taken, that range increases to 1.6 to 3.4 feet.

The report also emphasizes the importance of preparing for extreme but uncertain scenarios involving the rapid loss of the Antarctic ice sheet, which would have an enormous impact on coastal regions. In one such scenario, sea levels along California’s coastline could rise up to 10 feet by 2100, about 30 to 40 times faster than sea-level rise experienced over the last century.

“Although our scientific understanding is rapidly increasing, waiting for scientific certainty about the rate or ultimate amount of sea-level rise is neither a safe nor prudent option,” said Griggs, chair of the science team and professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Santa Cruz. “The sea-level rise projections presented in this report provide the scientific foundation for taking action today, preparing our coastal communities and mitigating hazards, and preventing much greater losses than will occur without action now.”

The new science report was requested by the California Ocean Protection Council and the California Natural Resources Agency, in collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the California Energy Commission, and the California Ocean Science Trust. Expertise on the scientific team includes risk assessment, climatic change, ice sheet behavior, and statistical modeling.

The seven scientists who synthesized the latest science as a working group of the Ocean Protection Council’s science advisory team are Gary Griggs, UC Santa Cruz; Dan Cayan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Claudia Tebaldi, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Helen Amanda Fricker, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Joe Arvai, University of Michigan; Rob DeConto, University of Massachusetts; and Robert E. Kopp, Rutgers University.

Read the .pdf here