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Millennia of sea-level change

How has global sea level changed in the past millennia? And how will it change in this century and in the coming millennia? What part do humans play? Several new papers provide new insights.

2500 years of past sea level variations

This week, a paper will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) with the first global statistical analysis of numerous individual studies of the history of sea level over the last 2500 years (Kopp et al. 2016 – I am one of the authors). Such data on past sea level changes before the start of tide gauge measurements can be obtained from drill cores in coastal sediments. By now there are enough local data curves from different parts of the world to create a global sea level curve.

Let’s right away look at the main result. The new global sea level history looks like this:


Fig. 1 Reconstruction of the global sea-level evolution based on proxy data from different parts of the world. The red line at the end (not included in the paper) illustrates the further global increase since 2000 by 5-6 cm from satellite data. More »


  1. R.E. Kopp, A.C. Kemp, K. Bittermann, B.P. Horton, J.P. Donnelly, W.R. Gehrels, C.C. Hay, J.X. Mitrovica, E.D. Morrow, and S. Rahmstorf, "Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113, pp. E1434-E1441, 2016.

Blizzard Jonas and the slowdown of the Gulf Stream System

Filed under: — stefan @ 24 January 2016

Blizzard Jonas on the US east coast has just shattered snowfall records. Both weather forecasters and climate experts have linked the high snowfall amounts to the exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures off the east coast. In this post I will examine a related question: why are sea surface temperatures so high there, as shown in the snapshot from Climate Reanalyzer below?



I will argue that this warmth (as well as the cold blob in the subpolar Atlantic) is partly due to a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), sometimes referred to as the Gulf Stream System, in response to global warming. There are two points to this argument:

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Bjørn Lomborg, just a scientist with a different opinion?

Filed under: — stefan @ 31 August 2015 - (Español)

Bjørn Lomborg is a well-known media personality who argues that there are more important priorities than reducing emissions to limit global warming. In a recent controversy centering on him, the Australian government (known for its contradictory position on climate change) offered the University of Western Australia (UWA) $4 million to make Lomborg professor – which UWA first accepted, but then after massive protest from its staff and students refused. The Australian government was quick to label it a “freedom of speech” issue that Lomborg should get a university position, and vowed to find another university that would host him. However, free speech doesn’t guarantee everyone a university position; there are also academic qualifications required.

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Heaven belongs to us all – the new papal encyclical

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 June 2015

Guest post by Brigitte Knopf

With his encyclical “Laudato Si” the Pope has written more than a moral appeal without obligation. He has presented a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power, which will probably determine the public debate on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come. Thus, the encyclical is also highly relevant to me as a non-Catholic and non-believer; the implications of the encyclical are very apparent through the eyes of a secular person.

The core of the encyclical makes clear that global warming is a “global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods” (25 – where the numbers refer to the numbering in the encyclical). The reasons identified are mainly the current models of production and consumption (26). The encyclical emphasizes that the gravest effects of climate change and the increasing inequality are suffered by the poorest (48). Since we face a complex socio-ecological crisis, strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty (139). So far, however, governments have not found a solution for the over-exploitation of the global commons, such as atmosphere, oceans, and forests (169). Therefore, the encyclical focusses on actors, such as non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and intermediate groups (179) and calls for a dialogue between politics, science, business and religion.

The encyclical is, with 246 individual points, too extensive to be discussed in here in its entirety, but three aspects are particularly noteworthy:

  1. it is based unequivocally onthe scientific consensusthat global warmingis taking placeand that climate changeis man-made; itrejects thedenialof anthropogenicwarming;
  2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
  3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.

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Debate in the noise

Last week there was an international media debate on climate data which appeared to be rather surreal to me. It was claimed that the global temperature data had so far shown a “hiatus” of global warming from 1998-2012, which was now suddenly gone after a data correction. So what happened?

One of the data centers that compile the data on global surface temperatures – NOAA – reported in the journal Science on an update of their data. Some artifacts due to changed measurement methods (especially for sea surface temperatures) were corrected and additional data of previously not included weather stations were added. All data centers are continually working to improve their database and they therefore occasionally present version updates of their global series (NASA data are currently at version 3, the British Hadley Centre data at version 4). There is nothing unusual about this, and the corrections are in the range of a few hundredths of a degree – see Figure 1. This really is just about fine details. More »

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