IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Sea-level scenarios

A principal impact projected under global warming is sea-level rise. Some basic techniques for developing sea-level scenarios were described in the TAR (Carter et al., 2001). Since the TAR, methodological refinements now account more effectively for regional and local factors affecting sea level and, in so doing, produce scenarios that are more relevant for planning purposes. Two main types of scenario are distinguished here: regional sea level and storm surges. A third type, characterising abrupt sea-level rise, is described in Section 2.4.7. Analogue approaches have also been reported (e.g., Arenstam Gibbons and Nicholls, 2006). More details on sea level and sea-level scenarios can be found in Bindoff et al. (2007), Meehl et al. (2007) and Chapter 6 of this volume. Examples of SRES-based sea-level scenarios are provided in Box 2.5.

Box 2.5. SRES-based sea-level scenarios

At the global level, simple models representing the expansion of sea water and melting/sliding of land-based ice sheets and glaciers were used in the TAR to obtain estimates of globally averaged mean sea-level rise across the SRES scenarios, yielding a range of 0.09 to 0.88 m by 2100 relative to 1990 (Church et al., 2001). This range has been reassessed by WG I, yielding projections relative to 1980-1999 for the six SRES marker scenarios of B1: 0.18 to 0.38 m, A1T: 0.20 to 0.45 m, B2: 0.20 to 0.43 m, A1B: 0.21 to 0.48 m, A2: 0.23 to 0.51 m, and A1FI: 0.26 to 0.59 m (Meehl et al., 2007). Thermal expansion contributes about 60 to 70% to these estimates. Projections are smaller than given in the TAR, due mainly to improved estimates of ocean heat uptake but also to smaller assessed uncertainties in glacier and ice cap changes. However, uncertainties in carbon cycle feedbacks, ice flow processes, and recent observed ice discharge rates are not accounted for due to insufficient understanding (Meehl et al., 2007).

A number of studies have made use of the TAR sea-level scenarios. In a global study of coastal flooding and wetland loss, Nicholls (2004) used global mean sea-level rise estimates for the four SRES storylines by 2025, 2055, and 2085. These were consistent with climate scenarios used in parallel studies (see Section Two subsidence rates were also applied to obtain relative sea level rise in countries already experiencing coastal subsidence. The United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme adopted the TAR global mean sea-level rise estimates in national scenarios out to the 2080s. Scenarios of high water levels were also developed by combining mean sea-level changes with estimates of future storminess, using a storm surge model (Hulme et al., 2002). SRES-based sea-level scenarios accounting for global mean sea level, local land uplift, and estimates of the water balance of the Baltic Sea were estimated for the Finnish coast up to 2100 by Johansson et al. (2004), along with calculations of uncertainties and extreme high water levels.

Regional sea-level scenarios

Sea level does not change uniformly across the world under a changing climate, due to variation in ocean density and circulation changes. Moreover, long-term, non-climate-related trends, usually associated with vertical land movements, may affect relative sea level. To account for regional variations, Hulme et al. (2002) recommend applying the range of global-mean scenarios ±50% change. Alternative approaches utilise scenario generators. The Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment (DIVA) model computes relative sea-level rise scenarios using either global-mean or regional patterns of sea-level rise scenarios from CLIMBER-2, a climate model of intermediate complexity (Petoukhov et al., 2000; Ganopolski et al., 2001). CLIMsystems (2005) have developed a software tool that rapidly generates place-based future scenarios of sea-level change during the 21st century, accounting for global, regional, and local factors. Spatial patterns of sea-level rise due to thermal expansion and ocean processes from AOGCM simulations are combined with global-mean sea-level rise projections from simple climate models through the pattern-scaling technique (Santer et al., 1990). Users can specify a value for the local sea-level trends to account for local land movements.

Storm surge scenarios

In many locations, the risk of extreme sea levels is poorly characterised even under present-day climatic conditions, due to sparse tide gauge networks and relatively short records of high measurement frequency. Where such records do exist, detectable trends are highly dependent on local conditions (Woodworth and Blackman, 2004). Box 6.2 in Chapter 6 summarises several recent studies that employ extreme water level scenarios. Two methods were employed to develop these scenarios, one using a combination of stochastic sampling and dynamic modelling, the other using downscaled regional climate projections from global climate models to drive barotropic storm surge models (Lowe and Gregory, 2005).