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

Sea Level

Sea level is projected to rise between the present (1980–1999) and the end of this century (2090–2099) under the SRES B1 scenario by 0.18 to 0.38 m, B2 by 0.20 to 0.43 m, A1B by 0.21 to 0.48 m, A1T by 0.20 to 0.45 m, A2 by 0.23 to 0.51 m, and A1FI by 0.26 to 0.59 m. These are 5 to 95% ranges based on the spread of AOGCM results, not including uncertainty in carbon cycle feedbacks. For each scenario, the midpoint of the range is within 10% of the TAR model average for 2090-2099. The ranges are narrower than in the TAR mainly because of improved information about some uncertainties in the projected contributions. In all scenarios, the average rate of rise during the 21st century very likely exceeds the 1961 to 2003 average rate (1.8 ± 0.5 mm yr–1). During 2090 to 2099 under A1B, the central estimate of the rate of rise is 3.8 mm yr–1. For an average model, the scenario spread in sea level rise is only 0.02 m by the middle of the century, and by the end of the century it is 0.15 m.

Thermal expansion is the largest component, contributing 70 to 75% of the central estimate in these projections for all scenarios. Glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet are also projected to contribute positively to sea level. General Circulation Models indicate that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will receive increased snowfall without experiencing substantial surface melting, thus gaining mass and contributing negatively to sea level. Further accelerations in ice flow of the kind recently observed in some Greenland outlet glaciers and West Antarctic ice streams could substantially increase the contribution from the ice sheets. For example, if ice discharge from these processes were to scale up in future in proportion to global average surface temperature change (taken as a measure of global climate change), it would add 0.1 to 0.2 m to the upper bound of sea level rise by 2090 to 2099. In this example, during 2090 to 2099 the rate of scaled-up Antarctic discharge would roughly balance the expected increased rate of Antarctic accumulation, being under A1B a factor of 5 to 10 greater than in recent years. Understanding of these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood or to give a best estimate.

Sea level rise during the 21st century is projected to have substantial geographical variability. The model median spatial standard deviation is 0.08 m under A1B. The patterns from different models are not generally similar in detail, but have some common features, including smaller than average sea level rise in the Southern Ocean, larger than average in the Arctic, and a narrow band of pronounced sea level rise stretching across the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans.