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WIREs Clim Change
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Sea‐level scenarios for evaluating coastal impacts

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Global‐mean sea‐level rise will drive impacts and adaptation needs around the world's coasts over the 21st century and beyond. A key element in assessing these issues is the development of scenarios (or plausible futures) of local relative sea‐level rise to support impact assessment and adaptation planning. This requires combining a number of different but uncertain components of sea level which can be linked to climatic and non‐climatic (i.e., uplift/subsidence of coastal land) factors. A major concern remains about the possibility of significant contributions from the major Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and this must be factored into the assessments, despite the uncertainty. This paper reviews the different mechanisms which contribute to sea‐level change and considers a methodology for combining the available data to create relative (or local) sea‐level rise scenarios suitable for impact and adaptation assessments across a range of sophistication of analysis. The methods that are developed are pragmatic and consider the different needs of impact assessment, adaptation planning, and long‐term decision making. This includes the requirements of strategic decision makers who rightly focus on low probability but high consequence changes and their consequences. Hence plausible high end sea‐level rise scenarios beyond the conventional Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) range and which take into account evidence beyond that from the current generation of climate models are developed and their application discussed. Continued review and development of sea‐level scenarios is recommended, starting with assimilating the insights of the forthcoming IPCC AR5 assessment. WIREs Clim Change 2014, 5:129–150. doi: 10.1002/wcc.253

Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.

(a) Sea‐level rise (in mm) caused by melting of an amount of Antarctic land‐ice equivalent to 1 mm of globally average sea‐level rise. (b) Analogous calculation, but for Greenland land‐ice. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2001 Nature Publishing Group)
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Ensemble mean variations in local sea‐level change (m) from the global average (i.e., positive values indicate greater local sea level change than global) during the 21st century with the SRES A1B scenario. Stippling indicates where the variation between the models is less than the ensemble mean. (Source: Figure 10.32 of Ref . Many similar features are seen in the more recent analysis of Yin).
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Estimates of the vertical allowances (m) necessary for sea‐level rise from 1990 to 2100 under the A1FI emissions scenario. The allowances are based on a spatially varying rise in mean sea level and the statistics of storm tides observed at each location. The uncertainty in the projections of sea‐level rise was fitted to a normal distribution. The size of the allowance is indicated by dot diameter. Yellow triangles indicate allowances <0.4 m. Source: Dr J Hunter
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Contrasting relative sea‐level observations over the 19th/20th/early 21st centuries. The offsets between records are for display purposes. Data from the permanent service for mean sea level (http://www.pol.ac.uk/psmsl/).
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Components for developing sea‐level scenarios within impact assessment and adaptation planning. With the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) there is a 1:1 relationship between the socioeconomic scenario and resulting climate change; the newer representative concentration pathways (RCPs) are not coupled to single socioeconomic scenarios and the analysis starts with the greenhouse gas trajectory.
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Illustration of the magnitude of sea‐level rise which needs to be considered for a range of assessments.
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