Their paper, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies. The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about 1.1 millimeters per year, or just 0.43 inches per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds that they rose at 3.1 millimeters per year, or 1.22 inches per decade.

The cause, said Dangendorf, is that sea level rise throughout much of the 20th century was driven by the melting of land-based glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms, but sea level rise in the 21st century has now, on top of that, added in major contributions from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

“The sea level rise is now three times as fast as before 1990,” Dangendorf said….Kopp added that in the past five years, there is some indication that sea level rise could already be even higher than the 3.1 millimeter annual rate seen from 1993 through 2012. He cautioned, though, that “those higher rates over a short period of time probably include some level of natural variability as well as continued, human-caused acceleration.”…“Sea levels will continue to rise over the coming century, no matter whether we will adapt or not, but I think we can limit at least a part of the sea level rise. It will further accelerate, but how much is related to how we act as humans,” Dangendorf said

Sönke Dangendorf, Reassessment of 20th century global mean sea level rise. PNAS 2017 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1616007114