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Sea level rises being "seriously underestimated"

Current estimates over rising sea levels - should climate change continue at its current rate - are being "seriously underestimated", scientists have suggested.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geologist Anders Carlson report that sea-level rise from greenhouse-induced warming of the Greenland ice sheet could be double or triple current estimates over the next century.

"We're not talking about something catastrophic, but we could see a much bigger response in terms of sea level from the Greenland ice sheet over the next 100 years than what is currently predicted," said Professor Carlson.

Scientists have yet to agree on how much melting of the Greenland ice sheet - which is a terrestrial ice mass encompassing 1.7 million square kilometres - will contribute to changes in sea level.

However, Carlson claims this is mainly due to a lack of precedent for the influence of climate change on a massive ice sheet.

"We've never seen an ice sheet disappear before, but here we have a record," Prof Carlson said of the most recent study, which combined a powerful computer model with marine and terrestrial records.

According to the new study, rising sea levels up to a third of an inch per year or one to two feet over the course of a century are possible.

Even slight rises in global sea level are problematic as a significant percentage of the world's human population - hundreds of millions of people - lives in areas that can be affected by rising seas, including large parts of the East Anglia and the Thames estuary in the southern United Kingdom.

"For planning purposes, we should see the IPCC projections as conservative," Prof Carlson warned.

"We think this is a very low estimate of what the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to sea level."

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