IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

10.6.5 Projections of Global Average Sea Level Change for the 21st Century

Table 10.7 and Figure 10.33 show projected changes in global average sea level under the SRES marker scenarios for the 21st century due to thermal expansion and land ice changes based on AR4 AOGCM results (see Sections 10.6.1, 10.6.3 and 10.6.4 for discussion). The ranges given are 5 to 95% intervals characterising the spread of model results, but we are not able to assess their likelihood in the way we have done for temperature change (Section, for two main reasons. First, the observational constraint on sea level rise projections is weaker, because records are shorter and subject to more uncertainty. Second, current scientific understanding leaves poorly known uncertainties in the methods used to make projections for land ice (Sections 10.6.3 and 10.6.4). Since the AOGCMs are integrated with scenarios of CO2 concentration, uncertainties in carbon cycle feedbacks are not included in the results. The carbon cycle uncertainty in projections of temperature change cannot be translated into sea level rise because thermal expansion is a major contributor and its relation to temperature change is uncertain (Section 10.6.1).

Table 10.7. Projected global average sea level rise during the 21st century and its components under SRES marker scenarios. The upper row in each pair gives the 5 to 95% range (m) of the rise in sea level between 1980 to 1999 and 2090 to 2099. The lower row in each pair gives the range of the rate of sea level rise (mm yr–1) during 2090 to 2099. The land ice sum comprises G&IC and ice sheets, including dynamics, but excludes the scaled-up ice sheet discharge (see text). The sea level rise comprises thermal expansion and the land ice sum. Note that for each scenario the lower/upper bound for sea level rise is larger/smaller than the total of the lower/upper bounds of the contributions, since the uncertainties of the contributions are largely independent. See Appendix 10.A for methods.

   B1 B2 A1B A1T A2 A1FI 
Thermal expansion 0.10 0.24 0.12 0.28 0.13 0.32 0.12 0.30 0.14 0.35 0.17 0.41 
mm yr-1 1.1 2.6 1.6 4.0 1.7 4.2 1.3 3.2 2.6 6.3 2.8 6.8 
G&IC 0.07 0.14 0.07 0.15 0.08 0.15 0.08 0.15 0.08 0.16 0.08 0.17 
mm yr-1 0.5 1.3 0.5 1.5 0.6 1.6 0.5 1.4 0.6 1.9 0.7 2.0 
Greenland Ice Sheet SMB 0.01 0.05 0.01 0.06 0.01 0.08 0.01 0.07 0.01 0.08 0.02 0.12 
mm yr-1 0.2 1.0 0.2 1.5 0.3 1.9 0.2 1.5 0.3 2.8 0.4 3.9 
Antarctic Ice Sheet SMB -0.10 -0.02 -0.11 -0.02 -0.12 -0.02 -0.12 -0.02 -0.12 -0.03 -0.14 -0.03 
mm yr-1 -1.4 -0.3 -1.7 -0.3 -1.9 -0.4 -1.7 -0.3 -2.3 -0.4 -2.7 -0.5 
Land ice sum 0.04 0.18 0.04 0.19 0.04 0.20 0.04 0.20 0.04 0.20 0.04 0.23 
mm yr-1 0.0 1.8 -0.1 2.2 -0.2 2.5 -0.1 2.1 -0.4 3.2 -0.8 4.0 
Sea level rise 0.18 0.38 0.20 0.43 0.21 0.48 0.20 0.45 0.23 0.51 0.26 0.59 
mm yr-1 1.5 3.9 2.1 5.6 2.1 6.0 1.7 4.7 3.0 8.5 3.0 9.7 
Scaled-up ice sheet discharge 0.00 0.09 0.00 0.11 -0.01 0.13 -0.01 0.13 -0.01 0.13 -0.01 0.17 
mm yr-1 0.0 1.7 0.0 2.3 0.0 2.6 0.0 2.3 -0.1 3.2 -0.1 3.9 

Figure 10.33

Figure 10.33. Projections and uncertainties (5 to 95% ranges) of global average sea level rise and its components in 2090 to 2099 (relative to 1980 to 1999) for the six SRES marker scenarios. The projected sea level rise assumes that the part of the present-day ice sheet mass imbalance that is due to recent ice flow acceleration will persist unchanged. It does not include the contribution shown from scaled-up ice sheet discharge, which is an alternative possibility. It is also possible that the present imbalance might be transient, in which case the projected sea level rise is reduced by 0.02 m. It must be emphasized that we cannot assess the likelihood of any of these three alternatives, which are presented as illustrative. The state of understanding prevents a best estimate from being made.

In all scenarios, the average rate of rise during the 21st century is very likely to exceed the 1961 to 2003 average rate of 1.8 ± 0.5 mm yr–1 (see Section The central estimate of the rate of sea level rise during 2090 to 2099 is 3.8 mm yr–1 under A1B, which exceeds the central estimate of 3.1 mm yr–1 for 1993 to 2003 (see Section The 1993 to 2003 rate may have a contribution of about 1 mm yr–1 from internally generated or naturally forced decadal variability (see Sections and 9.5.2). These sources of variability are not predictable and not included in the projections; the actual rate during any future decade might therefore be more or less than the projected rate by a similar amount. Although simulated and observed sea level rise agree reasonably well for 1993 to 2003, the observed rise for 1961 to 2003 is not satisfactorily explained (Section 9.5.2), as the sum of observationally estimated components is 0.7 ± 0.7 mm yr–1 less than the observed rate of rise (Section 5.5.6). This indicates a deficiency in current scientific understanding of sea level change and may imply an underestimate in projections.

For an average model (the central estimate for each scenario), the scenario spread (from B1 to A1FI) in sea level rise is only 0.02 m by the middle of the century. This is small because of the time-integrating effect of sea level rise, on which the divergence among the scenarios has had little effect by then. By 2090 to 2099 it is 0.15 m.

In all scenarios, the central estimate for thermal expansion by the end of the century is 70 to 75% of the central estimate for the sea level rise. In all scenarios, the average rate of expansion during the 21st century is larger than central estimate of 1.6 mm yr–1 for 1993 to 2003 (Section 5.5.3). Likewise, in all scenarios the average rate of mass loss by G&IC during the 21st century is greater than the central estimate of 0.77 mm yr–1 for 1993 to 2003 (Section 4.5.2). By the end of the century, a large fraction of the present global G&IC mass is projected to have been lost (see, e.g., Table 4.3). The G&IC projections are rather insensitive to the scenario because the main uncertainties come from the G&IC model.

Further accelerations in ice flow of the kind recently observed in some Greenland outlet glaciers and West Antarctic ice streams could increase the ice sheet contributions substantially, but quantitative projections cannot be made with confidence (see Section The land ice sum in Table 10.7 includes the effect of dynamical changes in the ice sheets that can be simulated with a continental ice sheet model (Section It also includes a scenario-independent term of 0.32 ± 0.35 mm yr–1 (0.035 ± 0.039 m in 110 years). This is the central estimate for 1993 to 2003 of the sea level contribution from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, plus half of that from Greenland (Sections and We take this as an estimate of the part of the present ice sheet mass imbalance that is due to recent ice flow acceleration (Section, and assume that this contribution will persist unchanged.

We also evaluate the contribution of rapid dynamical changes under two alternative assumptions (see, e.g., Alley et al., 2005b). First, the present imbalance might be a rapid short-term adjustment, which will diminish during coming decades. We take an e-folding time of 100 years, on the basis of an idealised model study (Payne et al., 2004). This assumption reduces the sea level rise in Table 10.7 by 0.02 m. Second, the present imbalance might be a response to recent climate change, perhaps through oceanic or surface warming (Section No models are available for such a link, so we assume that the imbalance might scale up with global average surface temperature change, which we take as a measure of the magnitude of climate change (see Appendix 10.A). This assumption adds 0.1 to 0.2 m to the estimated upper bound for sea level rise depending on the scenario (Table 10.7). During 2090 to 2099, the rate of scaled-up antarctic discharge roughly balances the increased rate of antarctic accumulation (SMB). The central estimate for the increased antarctic discharge under the SRES scenario A1FI is about 1.3 mm yr–1, a factor of 5 to 10 greater than in recent years, and similar to the order-of-magnitude upper limit of Section It must be emphasized that we cannot assess the likelihood of any of these three alternatives, which are presented as illustrative. The state of understanding prevents a best estimate from being made.

The central estimates for sea level rise in Table 10.7 are smaller than the TAR model means (Church et al., 2001) by 0.03 to 0.07 m, depending on scenario, for two reasons. First, these projections are for 2090-2099, whereas the TAR projections were for 2100. Second, the TAR included some small constant additional contributions to sea level rise which are omitted here (see below regarding permafrost). If the TAR model means are adjusted for this, they are within 10% of the central estimates from Table 10.7. (See Appendix 10.A for further information.) For each scenario, the upper bound of sea level rise in Table 10.7 is smaller than in the TAR, and the lower bound is larger than in the TAR. This is because the uncertainty on the sea level projection has been reduced, for a combination of reasons (see Appendix 10.A for details). The TAR would have had similar ranges to those shown here if it had treated the uncertainties in the same way.

Thawing of permafrost is projected to contribute about 5 mm during the 21st century under the SRES scenario A2 (calculated from Lawrence and Slater, 2005). The mass of the ocean will also be changed by climatically driven alteration in other water storage, in the forms of atmospheric water vapour, seasonal snow cover, soil moisture, groundwater, lakes and rivers. All of these are expected to be relatively small terms, but there may be substantial contributions from anthropogenic change in terrestrial water storage, through extraction from aquifers and impounding in reservoirs (see Sections and