Consensus Statements on Sea Level Rise

In my mailbox from the AGU:
After four days of scientific presentations about the state of knowledge on sea-level rise, the participants reached agreement on a number of important key statements. These statements are the reflection of the participants of the conference and not official positions from the sponsoring societies.
Earth scientists agree that the global sea level is rising at an accelerated rate overall in response to climate change.
Scientists have a professional responsibility to inform government, the public, and the private sector about the impacts of rising sea levels and extreme events, and the risks they pose.
The geological record indicates that the current rates of sea-level rise in many regions are unprecedented relative to rates of the last several thousand years.
Global sea-level rise has changed rapidly in the past and scientific projections show it will continue to rise over the course of this century, altering our coasts.
Extreme events and their associated impacts will be more damaging and pose higher risks in the immediate future than sea-level rise.
Increasing human activity, such as land use change and water management practices, adds stress to already fragile ecosystems and can affect coasts just as much as sea-level rise.
Sea-level rise will exacerbate the impacts of extreme events, such as hurricanes and storms, over the long-term.
Extreme events have contributed to loss of life, billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, massive taxpayer funding for recovery, and degradation of our ecosystems.
In order to secure a sustainable future, society must learn to anticipate, live with, and adapt to the dynamics of a rapidly evolving coastal system.
Over time feasible choices may change as rising sea level limits certain options. Weighing the best decisions will require the sharing of scientific information, the coordination of policies and actions, and adaptive management approaches.
Well-informed policy decisions are imperative and should be based upon the best available science, recognizing the need for involvement of key stakeholders and relevant experts.
As we work to adapt to accelerating sea level rise, deep reductions in emissions remain one of the best ways to limit the magnitude and pace of rising seas and cut the costs of adaptation.


  1. Dr. Roberts - I manage a farm in eastern North Carolina that sits 4-5 ft about sea level on average. What are your thoughts on how long we likely have until this farm runs into trouble? We manage water today with multiple pumping stations and dykes, but storm surges during hurricanes give us all we can handle as is.


  2. Joe,

    Good question, and I wish I had a good answer. This is not something I have any particular expertise about.

    4-5 feet is very low lying. Much of the eastern part of the state in this situation, which is why NC is probably among the top three states currently thought to be most threatened by sea level rise (Louisiana and Florida round out the list). I suspect you are already increasingly likely to run into trouble from extreme events, since storm surges will be a bit higher, both because hurricanes are expected are larger and because of gradual sea level rise. In the next decade or two, you're probably more threatened by the former (hurricanes) than the latter (sea level rise). In later decades seal level rise will likely predominate. But the scientific prediction about both of these factors---hurricanes and the pace of sea level rise---strike me as imprecise.

    My guess: you probably won't notice much of difference in the next decade or two. It's a game of chance with subtly changing odds. Most of the uncertainty concerns where big hurricanes land and the tide level when they land. The odds of a disastrous event may double or triple, but probably still very small. In 50-75 years, however, sea level could rise 3 ft or more, and I doubt your land will be farmed anymore, because the cost of managing water will be too high. In 150 years I expect your land will be under water.

    Note that these are fairly subjective guesses based on only a modest familiarity of the science.

  3. Appreciate your thoughts. I struggle to wrap my head around how to adjust to a problem like this. It's hard to manage through problems that are days, weeks or months in the making, let alone something that is expected to progress slowly over decades.

    In the meantime, we're focused on improving our ability to manage water, particularly during storms like Irene in 2011 which dropped up to 16" of rain on parts of the farm in a day. Without the ditch and pump systems that were put in during the sixties, the land wouldn't be farmed today. But there's only so much the system can handle.

    Thank you,


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