Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Sea level rise may crash on Ulster shores

Northern Ireland will be buffered from sea level rise for between 10 and 20 years - but after that our protection is gone.

That was the warning today from Queen's University academic Professor Julian Orford at a major conference on the research being carried out by the Environment and Heritage Service.

Professor Orford revealed how Northern Ireland's land mass has been rebounding for thousands of years from the huge weight of ice which covered it during the last Ice Age.

And that effect is raising our land mass between 0.5 and 1.5 mm every year - protecting us from the initial effects of the sea level rise that is predicted to result from global warming.

"We are trying to get a handle on how fast the land is rising in Northern Ireland post the last glaciation. Nobody has really been able to determine how quickly these rates of change have been occurring," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The reason I am interested is because if we look at future climate change and its impact on sea level, that rise in sea level might be compensated by the rise in crustal response. That particular situation is probably going to last for 10-20 years, but after that sea level rise is predicted to be greater than land rise."

At the moment sea level rise is slower than the rate of land rise but is expected to accelerate, eventually cancelling out the effect of the land rise.

"When sea level rise is greater then the 1.5mm rise of the land, the sea will start to invade the land. Sea level rates of change by end of century are predicted to be as much as 5-15 mm a year," the Professor of Geography said.

The National Trust recently expressed concerns about the future of Giant's Causeway, parts of which could slip beneath the waves if sea level rise reaches a predicted level of one metre by the end of the century.

"Over the 20th century Ireland really has been fairly safe from sea level rises - we've got a little bit of time but we should be looking to the future because when it does come, the projected rates of sea level rise will cause major difficulties for people living by the sea," Professor Orford warned.

"But I think most of Northern Ireland will be experiencing problems by 2050."

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