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Rising sea levels on the agenda

10 June 2010 International Polar Year - Oslo Science Conference

Sea levels may rise by as much as one metre before the end of this century, according to new predictions. Melting glaciers may contribute more to the rise in sea levels than scientists have previously realised.

The predicted rise in sea levels was on the agenda when award-winning BBC journalist Sue Nelson hosted the first PolarEXCHANGE on Tuesday afternoon, and gave a brief and entertaining summary of the first full day of the IPY-OSC.

150 million people will be affected
Sea levels can be expected to rise by between 0.5 and 1.5 metres before the next century, according to the report Melting Snow and Ice: A Call for Action, published by the Norwegian Polar Institute, which attracted a lot of attention at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December last year.

"Melting glaciers and the melting ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic will account for 75% of the rise in sea levels, while expansion of the water as it warms will account for 25 %," said Director Jan-Gunnar Winther  of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Such a rise in sea levels will have a tremendous impact on coastal communities around the world. There are 150 million people who live within one metre of the current coastline, and who will be severely affected, said Professor Tim Naish of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Professor Naish is doing research on ice cores from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - an area of particular interest with respect to rising sea levels.

New estimates of ice loss
The loss of mass from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the area around the Amundsen Sea is much higher than previously suspected, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Mike Willis from Cornell University. Using state-of-the-art satellite technology and modern GPS technology, he has produced new and accurate measurements of the ice masses in Antarctica.

"As glaciers grow and shrink, the earth moves up and down. By monitoring the earth's movement with GPS technology, we can take the earth out of the equation and come up with more accurate measures of the ice masses," he said.

Sue Nelson's popular science session on the first day of the conference also included an interview with scientist Tom Jordan, whose group presented the first images ever of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains earlier in the afternoon. Dr Steve Rintoul from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre talked about his research, which involves attaching motion sensors to elephant seals that spend the winter feeding beneath the sea ice in order to record data on the water quality of the Southern Ocean.

An intimate setting
Despite having to host the event in the plenary hall at Norway Trade Fairs, Sue Nelson managed to create an intimate and friendly atmosphere for the 30 to 40 people who turned up for the session. A webcast of the session is available on the IPY-OSC website.

The International Polar Year has an ambitious media strategy and an unprecedented outreach to the public. Many people predict that the efforts to involve and engage the public will be one of the most important parts of the IPY legacy.

The popular science sessions with BBC science writer and broadcaster Sue Nelson are part of this strategy. There will be Polar EXCHANGE sessions on Thursday at 16.45 and on Friday at 16.45 in the Plenary Hall.

http://ipy-osc.no/article/2010/1276086348.61

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