MEDIA RELEASE: Leading NZ climate scientist says sea level rises may double

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SCIENTISTS expect that the next international climate change report will forecast sea level rises of up to 1m by the end of this century – almost double current estimates.

Professor Tim Naish, director of the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had previously taken a conservative estimate of 0.5m but he believed sea level rises would be higher.

Prof Naish, a lead author on the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, said the window was closing quickly on mitigation options in terms of a world response.

“Rises could be higher than what the upper bounds of IPCC would suggest,” he said.

“We have got to prepare for a world with extreme climate. Wetter areas will be wetter … and warmer places will get warmer.”

An update on the fifth report will be ready most likely in October, with the final report finished next year. More than 800 scientists are involved.

Prof Naish, one of the experts at the Strategic Science in Antarctica conference under way in Hobart, said much was yet to be learnt on the impact of ice sheet melting in Antarctica and Greenland.

Sea level rises so far had been consistently higher than IPCC projections.

CO2 levels had passed 400 ppm for the first time in 3 million years. Back then, the climate was 2C to 3C warmer.

“In order to avoid that sort of scenario, we want to stabilise temperatures about 2C above pre-industrial times,” he said.

“At the moment, that target is going to be very, very difficult to achieve.”

Australian Antarctic Division scientist Andrew Klekociuk said there had been a slight increase in the area of Antarctic ice but the important issue was its thickness and this was thought to have been reduced.

It did not make a large contribution to sea level change but was an indicator of the Southern Ocean climate.

Weather bureau chief Rob Vertessy said humankind was changing the earth at a rapid pace and in a way that had never happened before.

“Change on the planet largely stems from population growth, growing consumption and that is going to accelerate all kinds of environmental processes,” Dr Vertessy said.

“We are going to lose a lot more natural capital and the climate and earth will change with it.”

Dr Vertessy, who will talk at the University of Queensland on Tuesday night, said environmental intelligence was becoming more important than ever.

Environmental intelligence was about earth systems such as hydrology and climate.

The bureau – which already had 1700 staff – would have to grow to keep abreast of this change and serve an increasingly demanding public.

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