Sea-level change: state of science and societal implications

This quarter I am offering a new course in undergraduate Honors for Winter quarter 2018 at University of Washington. Here is a link to information about the course, listed as Honors 221C:

The focus of this course is on the basic science of glacier and ice-sheet change due to changes in the climate system. We will address the state of science on the land-ice contribution to sea-level change, both what we know from the past and the projections for the future. This is an active area of ice and climate research, and one that is also evolving quickly because the science is advancing and because the ice is changing in new ways each year. Coupled to these scientific observations is an imperative to society: improved understanding of the ice-sheet change is necessary in order to make the best possible projections – adaptation and mitigation strategies depend on the science. Major global impacts are projected, and are already being seen in some parts of the world. Climate-change policy is explicitly tied to mitigation efforts, but an additional challenge for sea-level rise is that ice sheets do not respond immediately. The responsibility of response is complicated by the political and economical circumstances of the people affected.

Students will learn about the science of sea-level change, with an emphasis on the contribution from changes in land ice from Greenland and Antarctica, as well as mountain glaciers. Sea-level rise is a multi-faceted global challenge that requires breadth of understanding, but also needs reflection as part of a learning process that can lead to informed awareness and action; students should gain both in this course.

Themes that will be addressed include:

  • Ways that global sea level can rise or fall and how these changes are measured
  • How glaciers and ice sheets contribute to sea-level change
  • Sea-level change in the past and how that informs understanding of modern change
  • Societal impacts of sea-level rise for select cities, countries, and regions


I have grouped some resources in the following themes associated with the course and that will be updated throughout the quarter:

System-scale introduction


Ice-sheet and glacier contribution to sea level

Past change

Estimates of modern change

Future projections

Societal impacts

Reflective component