Next Century Forecasted Sea Level Rise: What Does It Mean for Houston?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the global mean sea level has risen at an average rate of 1 millimeter to 2 millimeters per year during the 20th century through thermal expansion of seawater and widespread loss of land ice. Moreover, satellite observations in the last decade show that since 1993 the rate of sea level rise has increased to 3.3ᅡᄆ0.4 millimeters per year. Global mean sea level is projected by the IPCC to rise between another 100 millimeters to 220 millimeters (3.9 inches to 8.6 inches) by 2050.

Dynamical instabilities in response to climate warming may cause faster ice mass loss. Recent publications indicate that sea level measurements are tracking at the high end of the IPCC estimates and conclude that a global rise in the order of 80 centimeters  (32 inches) to perhaps more than 1 meter (40 inches) is most likely by 2100, increasing the endangerment of  life and property in coastal areas.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the rising sea level affects wetlands and other low-lying habitats. It erodes beaches, can increase flooding risks and may increase the salinity of rivers, bays and groundwater tables. Populations that inhabit small islands or low-lying coastal areas "are at particular risk of severe social and economic effects from sea level rise and storm surges," according to the IPCC. Sea level rise will present a challenge to coastal areas and infrastructure. Nearly two-thirds of humanity lives within 90 miles of coastal waters. One-tenth of the global population and 13 percent of the world's urban population live in coastal areas that lie within 10 meters above sea level (the low elevation coastal zone, or LECZ), which covers only 2 percent of the world's land area. In the United States, more than 50 percent of Americans live in 772 coastal counties. By 2025, nearly 75 percent of Americans are projected to be living near a coast, with population density doubling in some areas such as Florida and California. An increase in extreme weather events is likely to exacerbate existing water management and control problems in low-lying coastal areas such as the U.S. Gulf Coast, where coastal agriculture, petrochemical plants, oil refineries and potable water systems could be threatened in the future.

"Next Century Forecasted Sea Level Rise: What Does It Mean for Houston?" will bring together climate science and environmental experts who will discuss these issues and the implications for Houston.


This event is sponsored by the Baker Institute Energy Forum  in conjunction with Rice University's Center for the Study of Environment and Society and the Shell Center for Sustainability.


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Event Agenda and Presentations

Amy Myers Jaffe, Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies, Baker Institute

Introductory Remarks
PDF icon Introductory Remarks by Andre W. Droxler, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Earth Science, and Director, Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University

Seminar Speakers

PDF icon "Present-Day Sea Level Rise: Current Understanding and Major Uncertainties"
Anny Cazenave, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Laboratoire d"Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS), and Member, French Academy of Sciences

PDF icon "Climate Change and its Potential Impacts on Severe Storms, Flooding, and Water Supplies"
Philip B. Bedient, Ph.D., Herman Brown Professor of Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University
Birnur Buzcu-Guven, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University

PDF icon "Getting Prepared: Policy Implications for Houston in Transportation and Other Related Issues"
Alan C. Clark, Director, Transportation and Air Quality Programs, and Director, Metropolitan, Planning Organization, Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC)

Question and Answer Session

Speaker Amy Jaffe

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Wed, April 9, 2008
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
(GMT-0500) America/Chicago


Rice University's Baker Institute