Current sea level rise projections could be seriously under-estimating the impact of human-induced climate change on the world’s oceans, scientists have suggested. By plotting global mean surface temperatures against sea level rise, the team found that levels could rise by 59% more than current forecasts.

The findings have been published in the online edition of the journal Science. The team from Germany and the US found that for the timescale relevant to human-induced climate change, the observed rate of sea level rise through the 20th Century held a strong correlation with the rate of warming.

When applied to the possible scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the researchers found that in 2100 sea levels would be 0.5-1.4m above 1990 levels. This projection is much greater than the 9-88cm forecast made by the IPCC itself in its Third Assessment Report, published in 2001.

The IPCC is set to publish its much anticipated Fourth Assessment Report in February 2007.