RIMS 2016: Sea Level Rise Will Be Worse and Come Sooner

By | April 12, 2016

Think sea level rise will be moderate and something we can all plan for? Think again.

Sea levels could rise by much more than originally anticipated, and much faster, according to new data being collected by scientists studying the melting West Antarctic ice sheet – a massive sheet the size of Mexico.

That revelation was made by an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday at the annual RIMS conference for risk management and insurance professionals in San Diego, Calif.

The conference is being attended by more than 10,000 people, according to organizers. It was day No. 3 of the conference, which ends Wednesday.

Margaret Davidson, NOAA’s senior advisor for coastal inundation and resilience science and services, and Michael Angelina, executive director of the Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, offered their take on climate change data in a conference session titled “Environmental Intelligence: Quantifying the Risks of Climate Change.”

RIMS16_conference logoDavidson said recent data that has been collected but has yet to be made official indicates sea levels could rise by roughly 3 meters or 9 feet by 2050-2060, far higher and quicker than current projections. Until now most projections have warned of seal level rise of up to 4 feet by 2100.

These new findings will likely be released in the latest sets of reports on climate change due out in the next few years.

“The latest field data out of West Antarctic is kind of an OMG thing,” she said.

Davidson’s purpose was to talk about how NOAA is sharing information with the insurance community and the public, and to explain how data on climate change is being collected.

She explained that reports like those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment, which come out roughly every five years, are going on old data.

By the time the scientists compiling those reports get the data it’s roughly two years old, because it took those gathering the data that long to collect it. It takes authors of the reports a few years to compile them.

“By the time we get out the report, it’s actually synthesizing data from about a decade ago,” she said.

Angelina’s focus was also on the data. He spoke about the ongoing development of the Actuaries Climate Index and the Actuaries Climate Risk Index.

The goals of the projects are to create climate change indices that reflect an actuarial perspective, to create an index that measures changes in climate extremes, use indices to inform the insurance industry and the public, and promote the actuarial profession by contributing statistically to the climate change debate.

So far their findings show the climate is definitely changing – though neither Davidson nor Angelina addressed the cause of this change, which they said was not the purpose of their talk.

Angelina said a new way of looking at weather is required when dealing with climate change, and that just looking at averages isn’t enough to give an accurate picture of climate change and the risk it presents.

The projects he’s involved with have instead looked at weather extremes.

“By looking at extremes I can actually acknowledge that I have a problem,” he said.

He used the notorious Bell Curve grading system to illustrate his point.

The goal of the curve is to achieve a 70 percent average among students. But if a teacher got to that 70 percent figure by having half the students failing poorly and half doing excellently, there’s a problem: half of the students aren’t getting it.

Looking at extreme temperature indices from more than 40 years ago and now, “things are different,” he said.

So too are days of excessive rain, and excessive dry days, wind power and the sea level index.

“They’re all up,” he said.

He added: “We’re in a different climate. The climate has changed.”

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