The Murky Science of Predicting Rising Sea Levels

Rising Sea Levels

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the murky science of predicting sea level rise. As well as visiting cities already facing flooding and storm surges from rising sea levels, the filmmakers examine preparations several major coastal cities are making to cope with increased flooding.

According to filmmakers, there was no effort to measure sea levels prior to the 17th century. A tide gauge in Turing Germany which has been continually measuring sea levels since the late 1700s reveals they rose at an average of one millimeter per year until the 1960s. Since then average global sea levels have risen by three millimeters per year, a total of 180 millimeters.

Apparently sea levels don’t rise at equal rates in different regions (due to variance in ocean currents, prevailing winds and tectonic plate movements). Sea levels are rising by one centimeter (10 millimeters) per year in Sweden, 20 centimeters per year in Indonesia, and roughly six millimeters a year in New York City.

As the frequency of catastrophic storms and flooding increases, planners in coastal towns and cities must make the difficult decision whether to relocate residents inland or build permanent flood defenses. In most cases, it comes down to a community’s financial resources. Poor communities are generally forced to relocate.

For example, Indonesian leaders are making plans to move the entire capitol Jakarta to higher ground. New York City is building flood defenses to protect lower Manhattan and Wall Street, but residents of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx will be forced to relocate. The German constitution commits the government to protecting the coastal integrity of the entire country, and leaders are planning to construct a network of dykes.

Current sea level rises stem from the gradual melting of Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets as the planet slowly warms. The melting of both ice sheets is predicted to result in a total average sea level rise of 66 meters.