This question is based on the following graph from a 2018 report by J. Curry.

(I haven't found any peer-review of the report itself so I can't vouch for the validity of its claims, but that's not the heart of the question)

enter image description here

If I understand correctly, an idea developed by the report is that the observed rate of sea level rise during the 1850-1950 period can hardly be explained due to CO2 emissions, as those are barely significant prior to 1950.

The AR5 IPCC report on sea level change doesn't address this directly.

What is the current consensus (if any) on the causes of the observed rate of sea level rise between 1850 and 1950 ?

(To be clear, I don't intend to question the predicted sea level rise at all. This question is unrelated to the IPCC projections.)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ this was the end of the little ice age so it is not totally unexpected for the sea level to go up en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2019 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ The connection between CO2 emissions and sea level rise is not an observation, it;s a prediction. That is, people did not notice the sea level rising, and look around for a cause. Instead, they noticed an increase in CO2 levels from fossil fuel burning (and predicted future increases), and used fairly basic physics to deduce the fact that it would cause warming and eventual sea level rise. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 4, 2019 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I understand that point, that's why I'm not asking why this "unexplained" warming discredits future ocean level rise (that would not make sense), simply whether there is a scientific consensus on its causes, unrelated to projected future ocean level rise. :) $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2019 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ Where is the rise in sea level shown on the graph? Is it a global change, or at one particular measurement location? $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @trondhansen wasn't the "little ice age" a regional, rather than global, phenomenon? Or am I misremembering? $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 19:45

1 Answer 1


SLR is thought to be caused by temperature rise, which is caused by CO2 rise and other factors. Temperature has been rising since before 1850. It could be another Question: "Why temperature does not correspond with CO2 levels since 1850".

enter image description here
The reconstructions used, in order from oldest to most recent publication are:
(dark blue 1000-1991): The Holocene.
(blue 1000-1980): Geophysical Research Letters.
(light blue 1000-1965): Ambio. Modified as published in Science.
(lightest blue 1402-1960): J. Geophys. Res..
(light green 831-1992): Science.
(yellow 200-1980): Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1029/2003GL017814.
(orange 200-1995): Reviews of Geophysics. doi:10.1029/2003RG000143
(red-orange 1500-1980): Geophys. Res Lett.. doi:10.1029/2004GL019781
(red 1-1979): Nature. doi:10.1038/nature03265
(dark red 1600-1990): Science. doi:10.1126/science.1107046
(black 1856-2004): Instrumental data was jointly compiled by the Climatic Research Unit and the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre.
Robert A. Rohde, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

  • $\begingroup$ is it possible for you to include more details about what happened from 1800-1850 like the solar minimum and the massive eruption of tambora volcano.this is to make your answer more complete. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ @trondhansen I found this graph of forcings since 1750 from IPCC (p.699), but I can't find one showing the cumulative effect on temperature. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ i found this britannica.com/science/Little-Ice-Age/media/1/344106/158081 if you follow the links you can find here you will be able to improve and expand your answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 18:03

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