Indicator Specification

Sea level rise

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CSI 047 , CLIM 012
Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 08 Feb 2021
7 min read
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

Go to latest version
This page was archived on 28 Jul 2014 with reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/sea-level-rise-3 was published)
Sea-level change at different European tide-gauge stations 1896-2004 Changes in global sea level 1870-2006 Sea-level changes in Europe October 1992-May 2007 Projected global average Sea-level rise 1990-2100

Update planned for November 2012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Sea-level rise (SLR) results from thermal expansion of the oceans (the increase in volume due to rising ocean water temperature) and increased inflow of melt-water from glaciers and ice-sheets (in particular the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets). Thus it is an important indicator of climate change, with great relevance in Europe for flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of flat coastal regions. Rising sea levels increase the likelihood of storm surges, enforce landward intrusion of salt water and endanger coastal ecosystems and wetlands. Coastal areas in Europe often contain important natural ecosystems, productive economic sectors, and major urban centres. A higher flood risk increases the threat of loss of life and property as well as damage to sea-dikes and infrastructure, and could lead to an increased loss of tourism, recreation and transportation functions (Nicholls and Tol, 2006; Nicholls et al., 2007; Devoy, 2008). Low-lying coastlines with high population densities and small tidal ranges will be most vulnerable to SLR (Kundzewicz, 2001). Thus coastal flooding related to SLR could affect a large population (Arnell, 2004; Nicholls, 2004). Because of the slow reaction of the climate system, climate change mitigation will not reduce these risks over the coming decades to any significant degree, but various options for adaptation exist.

Scientific references

  • References Arnell, N. W., 2004. Climate change and global water resources: SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environmental Change 14: 31-52. Cazenave, A., 2006. How fast are the ice sheets melting? Science 314: 1250-1252. Chen, J. L.; Wilson, C. R. and Tapley, B. D., 2006. Satellite gravimetry measurments confirm accelerated melting of Greenland ice sheet. Science 313: 1958-60. Church, J. A. and White, N. J., 2006. A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise. In Geophysical Research Letters 33, L01602. Demirov E. and Pinardi N., 2002. Simulation of the Mediterranean Sea circulation from 1979 to 1993: Part I. The inter-annual variability. Journal of Marine Systems 33-34: 23-50. Devoy, R. J. N., 2008. Coastal vulnerability and the plications of sea-level rise for Ireland. Journal of Coastal Research 24 (2): 325-341. Guinehut, S. and Larnicol, G., 2008. Produced for EEA by Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS). . Hulme, M.; Jenkins, G.; Lu, X.; Turnpenny, J. R.; Mitchell, T. D.; Jones, R. G.; Lowe, J.; Murphy, J. M.; Hassell, D.; Boorman, P.; McDonald, R. and Hill, S., 2002. Climate Change Scenarios for the UK. In: The UKCIP02 Scientific Report. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, Norwich. IPCC, 2001. Climate Change 2001: The scientific basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Houghton, J. T. et al. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, UK. IPCC, 2007a. Cimate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S.; Qin, D.; Manning, M.; Chen, Z.; Marquis, M.; Averyt, K. B.; Tignor M. and Miller H. L. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. IPCC, 2007b. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Parry, M. L.; Canziani, O. F.; Palutikof, J. P.; van der Linden, P.J. and Hanson, C.E. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Johansson, M. M.; Kahma, K. K. and Bowman H., 2004. Scenarios for sea level on the Finnish coast. Boreal Environment Research 9: 153-166. Katsman, C. A.; Hazeleger, W.; Drijfhout, S. S.; van Oldenborgh, G. J. and Burgers, G. J. H., 2007. Climate scenarios of sea level rise for the northeast Atlantic Ocean: a study including the effects of ocean dynamics and gravity changes induced by ice melt, Kluwer Academic publishers, the Netherlands. Kundzewicz, Z. W.; Parry, M.; Cramer, W.; Holten, J. I.; Kaczmarek, Z.; Martens, P.; Nicholls, R. J.; Oquist, M.; Rounsevell, M. D. A. and Szolgay, J. 2001. Europe. Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 641-692. Meier, H. E. M.; Broman, B. and Kjellström, E., 2004. Simulated sea level in past and future climates of the Baltic Sea. Climate Research 27: 59-75. Meier, H. E. M.; Broman, B.; Kallio, H. and Kjellström, E., 2006b. Projections of future surface winds, sea levels, and wind waves in the late 21st Century and their application for impact studies of flood prone areas in the Baltic Sea region. In: Schmidt-Thomé, P. (ed): Sea level change affecting the spatial development of the Baltic Sea region, Geological Survey of Finland, Special Paper 41: 23-43. Nerem, R. S.; Leuliette, E. and Cazenave, A., 2006. Present-day sea-level change: A review. Comptes Rendus Geoscience 338: 1077-1083. Nicholls, R. J., 2004. Coastal flooding and wetland loss in the 21st century: changes under the SRES climate and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environmental Change 14: 69-86. Nicholls, R. J. and de la Vega-Leinert, A. C. (eds.), 2007. Implications of sea-level rise for Europe's coasts. Journal of Coastal Research. Special issue (in press). Nicholls, R. J. and Tol, R. S. J., 2006. Impacts and responses to sea-level rise: a global analysis of the SRES scenarios over the twenty-first century. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series A 364: 1073-1095. Novotny, K. and Groh, A., 2007. Untersuchung von Pegelreihen zur Bestimmung der Änderung des mittleren Meeresspiegels an den europäischen Küsten; Technical University of Dresden; internal report prepared for the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). Rahmstorf, S.; Cazenave, A.; Church, J. A.; Hansen, J. E.; Keeling, R.; Parker, D. E. and Somerville, R. C. J., 2007. Recent climate observations compared to projections. Science 316: 709. Rignot, E. and Kanagaratnam, P. 2006. Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 311: 986-990. Tsimplis, M. N.; Woolf, D. K.; Osbourn, T. J.; Wakelin, S.; Wolf, J.; Flather, R.;  Woodworth, P.; Shaw, A. G. P.; Challenor, P. and Yan, Z., 2004. Future changes of sea level and wave heights at the northern European coasts. Geophysical Research Abstracts 6: 00332. UNEP, 2007. Global Outlook for Ice & Snow; UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2007. Watterson, I. G., 2003. Effects of a dynamic ocean on simulated climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases. Climate Dynamics 21: 197-209. Woodworth, P. L.; Gregory, J. M. and Nicholls, R. J. 2005. Long term sea level changes and their impacts. In: Robinson A.R. and Brink, K.H. (eds). The global coastal ocean: multiscale interdisciplinary processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA pp. 715-753.

Indicator definition

  • Sea-level change at different European tide-gauge stations 1896-2004
  • Changes in global sea level 1870-2006
  • Sea-level changes in Europe October 1992-May 2007
  • Projected global average Sea-level rise 1990-2100



Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question




Methodology for indicator calculation

Methodology for gap filling

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel



Indicator code
CSI 047
CLIM 012
Version id: 2


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


Document Actions