Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. John J. Clague

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. John J. Clague

Title: (Danger from the sea – Sea-level rise in a changing climate)

Abstract: The rise in ocean levels is among the most dangerous of the many secondary effects of near-future climate warming. On a global scale, sea level is currently rising at an average rate of about 3.5 mm/yr; this rate is nearly 50% higher than rates during the first half of the past century. Sea-level rise has been driven by a nearly 1oC rise in average Earth surface temperature since the early 1900s and, more specifically, has resulted from the loss of alpine glacier ice cover and thermal expansion of ocean waters. A further minimum 1oC rise in average global temperature is ‘locked in’, perhaps before the middle of this century. Continuing warming will ensure that the sea surface will continue to rise, likely reaching an average level nearly 1 m higher than today by the end of the century. This rate of sea-level rise is without precedent in the Holocene and matches some of the highest rates of the Pleistocene Epoch.

Recently, a group of respected climate scientists argued that IPCC has underestimated the amount of sea-level rise by the end of this century due to as yet poorly understood contributions of water from Greenland and Antarctica. Uncertainties in future rates and magnitudes of sea-level rise stem largely from two sources – future anthropogenic carbon emissions and poor knowledge of how rapidly Earth’s cryosphere will equilibrate to the warmer climate we face. Projected costs of protecting existing low-lying coastal infrastructure from higher seas could amount to hundreds of trillions of dollars. However, even with a massive effort, traditional engineering measures, mainly sea dykes, will be effective only for 1-2 m of sea-level rise. Displacement of hundreds of millions of people from low-lying coastal areas, with attendant social disruption and strife, will accompany sea-level rise more than 2 m.

Bio: John Clague is Emeritus Professor at Simon Fraser University. He was educated at Occidental College (BA), the University of California Berkeley (MA), and the University of British Columbia (PhD). Clague worked as a Research Scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada from 1975 until 1998. In 1998 he accepted a faculty position in Department of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University. He is currently Director of the Centre for Natural Hazard Research at SFU. Clague is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, former President of the Geological Association of Canada, and Past-President of the International Union for Quaternary Research and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC). He is recipient of the Geological Society of America Burwell Award, the Royal Society of Canada Bancroft Award, APEGBC’s Innovation Editorial Board Award, the Geological Association of Canada’s (GAC) E.R.W Neale Medal, and GAC’s Logan Medal and Ambrose Medal. He was the 2007-2008 Richard Jahns Distinguished Lecturer for the Geological Society of America and Association of Environmental and Engineering Geology and received an Honorary PhD from the University of Waterloo in 2017.



Friday, November 3, 2017


CIRES Auditorium, Room 338


Event Type



Refreshments provided