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Climate Change: Sea Level

House of Lords written question – answered on 8th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Cap Reform), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What role United Kingdom scientists are playing in the use of aerial photography to determine rises in sea level.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare)

Aerial photography is a technique that UK scientists have been using to a limited extent, primarily as an indirect means of estimating sea level rise caused by ice loss from glaciers.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), has a unique archive of aerial photography for Antarctica, going back to the 1940s. Scientists at BAS have made extensive use of this time-series photography to identify ice volume loss in Antarctic peninsula glaciers, which is contributing to sea level rise. Using data from both this archive and other sources of information, a collaborative study between BAS and the US Geological Survey, published in the journal Science in 2005, found that 87 per cent of the 244 glaciers studied had retreated over the last half-century. Loss of ice volume in Antarctic peninsula glaciers contributes to sea level rise.

More generally, direct measurements of sea level rise are made using satellite altimetry. Monthly and yearly mean values of sea level at all UK sites are retained by the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL), which is based at the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory. Also, Defra is working with the Environment Agency and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory to measure and understand the effects of vertical land movement (sinking in south-east England and rising in the north of the country), caused by melting of ice at the end of the last ice age.

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