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Even 1.5C warming will still leave world’s coasts exposed to extremes

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The paper found areas with relatively narrow sea-level changes now, such as in parts of the tropics that are not subject to big cyclones and the Mediterranean, will register the shift to more extremes sooner. By contrast, some northern hemisphere coastlines will see little change even at 5 degrees of warming.

John Church, a former senior CSIRO sea-level researcher now working at the University of NSW, said the paper contained “new and useful information”.

Even at 1.5 degrees, the lower end of the Paris Agreement, “we’re going to have to adapt”, Dr Church said. “It’s an important message to get out.”

Dr Church’s past work showed that in the 20th century, the risk of extreme events along the west and east coasts of Australia had roughly tripled.

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“I’d guess since 2000 they have increased by another factor of three,” he said.

Dr Kirezci said governments needed to prepare for the inevitable sea-level rises by considering sea walls and other barriers. Governments should also assess which coastal communities are most at risk and consider relocating them inland, and also investigate early warning systems to improve safety.

Her next line of work has been to examine the socio-economic damage likely for populations in every country.

Sea-level increases vary around the world because of two main processes, Dr Church said. One is a change in mass distribution, such as in Greenland where the land actually rises as its heavy ice sheets melt.

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Changes in currents, such as the strengthening of the East Australian Current, also contribute to difference rates of sea-level rises, he said.

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.

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