Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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3.3. Sea-Level Rise Scenarios

Sea-level rise scenarios are required to evaluate a diverse range of threats to human settlements, natural ecosystems, and landscape in the coastal zone. Relative sea-level scenarios (i.e., sea-level rise with reference to movements of the local land surface) are of most interest for impact and adaptation assessments. Tide gauge and wave-height records of 50 years or more are required, along with information on severe weather and coastal processes, to establish baseline levels or trends. Recent techniques of satellite altimetry and geodetic leveling have enhanced and standardized baseline determinations of relative sea level over large areas of the globe. [3.6.2]

Although some components of future sea-level rise can be modeled regionally by using coupled ocean-atmosphere models, the most common method of obtaining scenarios is to apply global mean estimates from simple models. Changes in the occurrence of extreme events such as storm surges and wave setup, which can lead to major coastal impacts, sometimes are investigated by superimposing historically observed events onto a rising mean sea level. More recently, some studies have begun to express future sea-level rise in probabilistic terms, enabling rising levels to be evaluated in terms of the risk of exceeding a critical threshold of impact. [3.6.3, 3.6.4, 3.6.5, 3.6.6]

3.4. Climate Scenarios

Three main types of climate scenarios have been employed in impact assessments: incremental scenarios, analog scenarios, and climate model-based scenarios. Incremental scenarios are simple adjustments of the baseline climate according to anticipated future changes that can offer a valuable aid for testing system sensitivity to climate. However, because they involve arbitrary adjustments, they may not be realistic meteorologically. Analogs of a changed climate from the past record or from other regions may be difficult to identify and are seldom applied, although they sometimes can provide useful insights into impacts of climate conditions outside the present-day range. [3.5.2]

The most common scenarios use outputs from general circulation models (GCMs) and usually are constructed by adjusting a baseline climate (typically based on regional observations of climate over a reference period such as 1961-1990) by the absolute or proportional change between the simulated present and future climates. Most recent impact studies have constructed scenarios on the basis of transient GCM outputs, although some still apply earlier equilibrium results. The great majority of scenarios represent changes in mean climate; some recent scenarios, however, also have incorporated changes in variability and extreme weather events, which can lead to important impacts for some systems. Regional detail is obtained from the coarse-scale outputs of GCMs by using three main methods: simple interpolation, statistical downscaling, and high-resolution dynamical modeling. The simple method, which reproduces the GCM pattern of change, is the most widely applied in scenario development. In contrast, the statistical and modeling approaches can produce local climate changes that are different from large-scale GCM estimates. More research is needed to evaluate the value added to impact studies of such regionalization exercises. One reason for this caution is the large uncertainty of GCM projections, which requires further quantification through model intercomparisons, new model simulations, and pattern scaling methods. [3.5.2, 3.5.4, 3.5.5]

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