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Robert Kopp is not one to shy away from the problem of sea level rise. On the contrary, Kopp — a climate policy scholar at the Rutgers University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences — acknowledges that rising sea levels form a major problem for this generation to address.

“We’re living in a time of extraordinary environmental change,” Kopp said in a lecture at the University on Monday, March 26, showing the audience a graph that depicted a dramatic rise in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.

Kopp suggested that as a consequence of this change, both temperatures and sea levels are rising dramatically. The human ramifications are startling: The frequency of tidal floods is increasing, particularly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, and about 380 million people currently live within 21 feet of the high tide line.

Kopp explained that there are two major contributing factors to sea level rise: a change in the volume of the oceans, driven by increasing temperatures, and a change in the amount of water, driven by melting ice.

However, Kopp contends that it isn’t enough to simply understand the physical forces. Satellite observations, tide gauges, and geological reconstructions are necessary to shape the way we address the problem.

Using the geological record, which is the only way to look significantly back in the history of tide levels, Kopp was able to conclude that the global rate of sea level rise of 1.4 ± 0.2 mm/year in the 20th century was almost certainly faster than in any century since at least 800 BCE.

Kopp then discussed the hazard assessment in this area of research. He suggested that there have been two types of approaches to coming up with projections. There is looking at the past relationship between temperature change and global sea level rise and there is the bottom-up approach of drawing upon the different processes driving sea level changes.

Kopp is more in favor of the latter process, which he employed in making his own projections.

As a scientist, Kopp does not expect the historical relationship of the last two millennia, particularly the relationship between temperature and sea levels, to be a good predictor of future centuries.

“This is a rapidly evolving area and I would argue that the past relationship is not necessarily a guarantee of future results,” he said.

Kopp also shared the economic consequences of rising sea levels. According to his research, permanent flooding of land could threaten $230–460 billion worth of current U.S. property over the next three decades.

To close off his talk, Kopp turned to discussing risk management and communication. He noted that mitigation policies could reduce the sea level rise, but that we will still have to adapt to some degree regardless. Kopp suggests that flexible-adaptation pathways may be a key approach to planning for the future.

Kopp is a firm supporter of collaboration and suggests that for us to create informed policies on sea level rise, we have to be willing to interact with stakeholders. In combating this problem, collaboration is of utmost necessity.

The lecture, titled “Coastal Risks in an Age of Sea-Level Rise,” took place in Wallace Hall 300 on Monday, March 26, at noon.

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