Rising seas lap at the house in "Nights in Rodanthe," filmed during the field work. Credit: Andrew Kemp, Yale University
The rate of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 years--and has shown a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level.
The findings are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), was conducted by Andrew Kemp, Yale University; Benjamin Horton, University of Pennsylvania; Jeffrey Donnelly, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Michael Mann, Pennsylvania State University; Martin Vermeer, Aalto University School of Engineering, Finland; and Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.
"Having a detailed picture of rates of sea level change over the past two millennia provides an important context for understanding current and potential future changes," says Paul Cutler, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.
"It's especially valuable for anticipating the evolution of coastal systems," he says, "in which more than half the world's population now lives."
Adds Kemp, "Scenarios of future rise are dependent on understanding the response of sea level to climate changes. Accurate estimates of past sea-level variability provide a context for such projections."
Kemp and colleagues developed the first continuous sea-level reconstruction for the past 2,000 years, and compared variations in global temperature to changes in sea level over that time period.
The team found that sea level was relatively stable from 200 BC to 1,000 AD.
Then in the 11th century, sea level rose by about half a millimeter each year for 400 years, linked with a warm climate period known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly.
Then there was a second period of stable sea level during a cooler period called the Little Ice Age. It persisted until the late 19th century.
Since the late 19th century, sea level has risen by more than 2 millimeters per year on average, the steepest rate for more than 2,100 years.