E.6 Sea Level (future change)

Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century (see Figure SPM.9). Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets. {13.3–13.5}


Confidence in projections of global mean sea level rise has increased since the AR4 because of the improved physical understanding of the components of sea level, the improved agreement of process-based models with observations, and the inclusion of ice-sheet dynamical changes.


Figure  SPM.9: Projections of global mean sea level rise over the 21st century relative to 1986–2005 from the  combination  of  the  CMIP5  ensemble  with  process-based  models,  for  RCP2.6  and  RCP8.5.  The assessed likely range is shown as a shaded band. The assessed likely ranges for the mean over the period 2081–2100 for all RCP scenarios are given as coloured vertical bars, with the corresponding median value given as a horizontal line. For further technical details see the Technical Summary Supplementary Material {Table 13.5, Figures13.10 and 13.11; Figures TS.21 and TS.22}


  • Global mean sea level rise for 2081−2100 relative to 1986–2005 will likely be in the ranges of 0.26 to 0.55 m for RCP2.6, 0.32 to 0.63 m for RCP4.5, 0.33 to 0.63 m for RCP6.0, and 0.45 to 0.82 m for RCP8.5 (medium confidence). For RCP8.5, the rise by the year 2100 is 0.52 to 0.98 m, with a rate during 2081–2100 of 8 to16 mm yr–1  (medium confidence).These ranges are derived from CMIP5 climate projections in combination with process-based models and literature assessment of glacier and ice sheet contributions (see Figure SPM.9, Table SPM.2). {13.5}


  • In the RCP projections, thermal expansion accounts for 30 to 55% of 21st century global mean sea level rise, and glaciers for 15 to 35%. The increase in surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet will exceed the increase in snowfall, leading to a positive contribution from changes in surface mass balance to future sea level (high confidence). While surface melting will remain small, an increase in snowfall on the Antarctic ice sheet is expected (medium confidence), resulting in a negative contribution to future sea level from changes in surface mass balance. Changes in outflow from both ice sheets combined will likely make a contribution in the range of 0.03 to 0.20 m by 2081−2100 (medium confidence). {13.3−13.5}


  • Based on current understanding, only the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet, if initiated, could cause global mean sea level to rise substantially above the likely range during the 21st century. However, there is medium confidence that this additional contribution would not exceed several tenths of a meter of sea level rise during the 21st century. {13.4, 13.5}


  • The basis for higher projections of global mean sea level rise in the 21st century has been considered and it has been concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to evaluate the probability of specific levels above the assessed likely range. Many semi-empirical model projections of global mean sea level rise are higher than process-based model projections (up to about twice as large), but there is no consensus in the scientific community about their reliability and there is thus low confidence in their projections. {13.5}


  • Sea level rise will not be uniform. By the end of the 21st century, it is very likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of the ocean area. About 70% of the coastlines worldwide are projected to experience sea level change within 20% of the global mean sea level change. {13.1, 13.6}
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