Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Climate Change: Ocean Warming Underestimated


To date, research on the effects of climate change has underestimated the contribution of seawater expansion to sea level rise due to warming of the oceans. A team of researchers at the University of Bonn has now investigated, using satellite data, that this effect was almost twice as large over the past twelve years than previously assumed. That may result in, for example, significantly increased risks of storm surges. The scientists are presenting their findings in the renowned scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” (PNAS).

In principle, water in the oceans acts like a mercury thermometer: when the temperature goes up, the liquid expands and climbs up the little tube. Since the world’s oceans are similarly locked in between the continents, their levels also rise when they heat up due to rising temperatures.

Dr.-Ing. Roelof Rietbroek from the Institute for Geodesy and Geoinformation at the University of Bonn, with a global illustration of the rise in sea levels on his computer monitor.

© Photo: Johannes Seiler/Uni Bonn

“In the deeper parts of the ocean, even a small amount of warming is enough to create a significant rise in sea level,” says Dr.-Ing. Roelof Rietbroek from the Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation at the University of Bonn. An increase of several millimeters a year, he says, is not rare in deep-sea zones.

“To date, we have underestimated how much the heat-related expansion of the water mass in the oceans contributes to a global rise in sea level,” says Dr. Jürgen Kusche, Professor of Astronomical, Physical and Mathematical Geodesy at the University of Bonn.

Together with researchers at the Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam and the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, the geodesists used gravity field data from the GRACE satellites and sea-level measurements from the altimeters on Jason-1 and Jason-2 to calculate how much sea levels had risen, both due to warming-related expansion of the water and due to the increase of ocean mass from 2002 to 2014.

Effect is twice as large as the melting ice masses in Greenland

Until now, it was assumed that sea levels rose an average of 0.7 to 1.0 millimeters a year due to this “thermometer effect.” According to the new calculations, however, the ocean’s expansion contributed with about 1.4 millimeters a year – in other words, almost twice as much as previously assumed. “This height difference corresponds to roughly twice the volume from the melting ice sheets in Greenland,” says Dr. Rietbroek.

In addition, the sea-level rise varies strongly due to volume expansion in various ocean regions along with other effects. According to the research team’s calculations, the Philippines hold the record with about 15 millimeters a year, while the levels are largely stable on the West Coast of the United States – because there is hardly any ocean warming in that region.

Risk of storm surges could increase significantly

The main areas threatened by rising sea levels are coastal settlements, where regional changes can play a greater role than the global increase. “No country will raise its levees because of a couple of millimeters,” says Dr. Rietbroek. “But these small amounts add up to several centimeters within decades. Under such conditions, the likelihood of a destructive storm surge could increase dramatically.” From the perspective of the research team, it is thus worth keeping an eye on the expansion-related sea-level rise in the world’s oceans in light of climate change. Little measurement data is available, they say, to show how much the oceans are warming up and expanding at depths of thousands of meters in conjunction with rising global air temperatures.

“Up to now, the physical expansion processes in the deep sea have been considered only to a limited extent,” says the geodesy researcher from the University of Bonn. However, he says, they play a key role in estimating the climate effects. Therefore it would be highly interesting to observe future heat-related expansion of the world’s oceans, using new satellite missions, and to reinterpret measurement data from the past. A longer observation period will help show what proportion of the rise in sea level is due to human activity, and what proportion is due to natural causes. Dr. Rietbroek: “In addition, the estimated trend in sea level is much less affected by natural fluctuations compared to the observed trend in global temperatures, so it is a more reliable indicator of climate change.”

Publication: Revisiting the Contemporary Sea Level Budget on Global and Regional Scales, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519132113

Media contact:

Dr.-Ing. Roelof Rietbroek
Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation
University of Bonn
Tel. ++49-228-733577
Twitter: @r_rietje

Weitere Informationen: Google Earth can also be used to visualize some of the results available here

Johannes Seiler | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:

Further reports about: Climate Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität levels oceans sea level

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>