Rise in Sea Levels and Temperature Predicted for Irish Sea

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Irish Sea will experience a rise in sea levels of almost half a metre and significant changes in temperature according to new research published today by engineers at the National University of Ireland Galway’s Ryan Institute.

The research suggests that by the end of the century the Irish Sea will be warmer with sea surface temperature increases of around 1.9 C. Such temperature increases may have significant impact on physical and transport processes within the Irish Sea, as well as implications for ecosystems and fishing.

Researchers at the Ryan Institute at the National University of Ireland Galway used the latest three-dimensional hydrodynamic modelling technologies to compute future changes.

“The research presented in this paper is the first model-based projection of the Irish Sea future climate and in this regard it is the most comprehensive study of this region”, explains Dr Mike Hartnett of the Ryan Institute at the National University of Ireland Galway. “The Irish Sea, being semi-enclosed, has a unique and complex geography, which influences its currents and our specific finding will help us better understand what lies ahead for these vital waters which link Ireland and the UK.”

Warming in the deep channel in the western Irish Sea will be generally weaker with seasonal variability subdued due to a large heat storage capacity. The warming will be largely stored in the surface layer of the water column leading to strengthening of stratification and a considerable decrease in the thickness of the mixed layer. The consequences of this will be changes to water circulation, expected to be of particular relevance to fisheries, pollutant transport and the ecosystem.

Dr Hartnett said: “Future changes to oceanographic parameters, flushing times and hydrodynamics of the Irish Sea are likely to alter the habitat and distribution of marine species; the finding of this research are therefore of great interest to ecologists and the fishery industry among others.”

With potential sea level rises in the order of 0.47m coastal flooding due to storm surges is likely to be more severe in the future. Recent flooding events such as the 2009 flooding of Cork City illustrate the vulnerability of coastal communities. It is likely in the future that more extreme coastal urban flooding will occur.

“This research confirms previous tentative estimates of sea level rise and also provides significant new detailed information regarding changes in temperature and water circulation patterns around our coast”, added Dr Hartnett.

The research is published in this month’s edition of the science journal Continental Shelf Research. This research was carried out under funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland and the Higher Education Authority/Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions.

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Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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