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

10.7.4 Commitment to Sea Level Rise Thermal Expansion

The sea level rise commitment due to thermal expansion has much longer time scales than the surface warming commitment, owing to the slow processes that mix heat into the deep ocean (Church et al., 2001). If atmospheric composition were stabilised at A1B levels in 2100, thermal expansion in the 22nd century would be similar to in the 21st (see, e.g., Section 10.6.1; Meehl et al., 2005c), reaching 0.3 to 0.8 m by 2300 (Figure 10.37). The ranges of thermal expansion overlap substantially for stabilisation at different levels, since model uncertainty is dominant; A1B is given here because results are available from more models for this scenario than for other scenarios. Thermal expansion would continue over many centuries at a gradually decreasing rate (Figure 10.34). There is a wide spread among the models for the thermal expansion commitment at constant composition due partly to climate sensitivity, and partly to differences in the parametrization of vertical mixing affecting ocean heat uptake (e.g., Weaver and Wiebe, 1999). If there is deep-water formation in the final steady state as in the present day, the ocean will eventually warm up fairly uniformly by the amount of the global average surface temperature change (Stouffer and Manabe, 2003), which would result in about 0.5 m of thermal expansion per degree celsius of warming, calculated from observed climatology; the EMICs in Figure 10.34 indicate 0.2 to 0.6 m °C–1 for their final steady state (year 3000) relative to 2000. If deep-water formation is weakened or suppressed, the deep ocean will warm up more (Knutti and Stocker, 2000). For instance, in the 3 × CO2 experiment of Bi et al. (2001) with the CSIRO AOGCM, both North Atlantic Deep Water and Antarctic Bottom Water formation cease, and the steady-state thermal expansion is 4.5 m. Although these commitments to sea level rise are large compared with 21st-century changes, the eventual contributions from the ice sheets could be larger still.

Figure 10.37

Figure 10.37. Globally averaged sea level rise from thermal expansion relative to the period 1980 to 1999 for the A1B commitment experiment calculated from AOGCMs. See Table 8.1 for model details.