Tuesday, August 17

New Scientist: Ancient Rome's fish pens confirm sea-level fears 

Coastal fish pens built by the Romans have unexpectedly provided the most accurate record so far of changes in sea level over the past 2000 years. It appears that nearly all the rise in sea level since Roman times has happened in the past 100 years, and is most likely the result of human activity. The Romans dug these fish pens into bedrock, and the water line in these well-preserved structures shows that the sea level along the Italian coast 2000 years ago was 1.35 metres below today's levels. 'They were used for only a very short time, so they make rather nice markers,' says Lambeck.

He then analysed how land elevations changed along the Italian coast due to both plate tectonics and the after-effects of the last ice age. In a paper to appear in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, he concludes that geological processes pushed the land up by 1.22 metres over last two millennia, which means that the global sea level rose by 13 centimetres. That is only about 100 years' worth of rise at the present rate of around 1 to 2 millimetres per year, implying that nearly all of it has occurred since 1900. While there is no proof that human activity is to blame, 'I can't think of a natural process that would have started in 1900,' he says. While Gregory cautions that this does not prove that global warming is responsible, both he and Lambeck agree that the results fit the rise in ocean volume expected from global warming melting glaciers in the industrial age.

New Scientist Online