Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research

Why sea-level research matters

Over 600 million people live and work at the coast. For these coastal regions, sea-level rise is one of the most important consequences of climate change. Research has shown that at least 70% of the observed sea-level rise is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

A wave breaks on the pier near Flushing in the Dutch Western Scheldt - CC: Gerwin Filius

In the Netherlands, about half of the land is located below sea level. We have a long history of keeping the water out and are known worldwide for our flood-safety construction works. People all over the world need to prepare for future sea-level rise, particularly in low-lying countries and delta areas like the Netherlands.

Our research approach

The sea level can be seen as a big thermometer, measuring the state of the climate system. The sea level changes, because of changes in the ocean, in the atmosphere, on the land and in the solid Earth. This impacts the coast in different ways, not only in terms of physics (increased sea levels), but also in terms of ecosystem interactions. For this reason, at NIOZ we look at sea level across different scientific disciplines.

We work at better understanding of regional sea-level changes in the past, on time scales of years, decades and centuries. We also work at getting better projections for the whole world, with a focus on coastal change and in particular the Dutch Delta and the Wadden Sea, to help prepare vulnerable coastal regions for future climate change.

Sediment transport and sea-level change

We focus on processes that determine sea level changes but that are also affected by sea level changes in a synergistic way. A substantial part of our research deals with the coupling between the cryosphere, oceans, solid Earth and sediment transport. We aim at understanding how sea level changes affect tides, currents, sediment transport and deposition. We also study sea level changes in the geological past, where data and models can provide constraints for future scenarios.

The interaction of sea-level change with coastal (eco)systems

The place where sea-level change matters most is at the coast. Therefore, we extend our work towards the consequences of sea level changes for the biogeomorphology of tidal ecosystems along our coasts. These systems host benthic species like algae, mussel beds and oyster reefs and provide foraging opportunities for birds.

Part of our research focuses on how tidal ecosystems can be used to defend our coasts against sea-level rise impacts. At NIOZ, we study tidal ecosystems using (field) flumes, wave-mesocosms,
remote sensing techniques
, and modelling. This allows us to assess how key-organisms that make up the ecosystems respond to new environmental settings and affect biogeomorphic processes, which is key to predicting their long-term fate under sea level rise.

Collaboration on (inter)national level

We aim to strengthen the collaboration on a national level, bringing together researchers from various institutes where sea level change is being studied, and we regularly organize workshops and symposia to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and the initiation of common research projects.

In addition to many international project collaborations, we also contribute to the forthcoming Sixth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by providing a Lead Author for the chapter on Oceans, Cryosphere and Sea Level Change of Working Group 1.

Recent publications