Nick Golledge, of Greytown, is one of the five leaders of the large Melting Ice and Rising Seas team at Victoria University that has won the overall Prime Minister’s Science Prize. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Sea level – a problem for all

ALEYNA MARTINEZ
aleyna.martinez@age.co.nz

Greytown is home to one of the recipients of the Prime Minister’s 2019 Science Prize announced on Tuesday.

Associate Professor Nick Golledge is a glaciologist, originally from the UK, who has called Wairarapa home for the past two years.

He is one of 20 Kiwis who make up a group called Melting Ice and Rising Seas.

They have been responsible for the break-through discovery that Antarctica’s ice sheets melted rapidly in the past and could have a significant impact on global sea level rise over the next 80 years.

Golledge said he was part of a “world class team” in Wellington which was “certainly punching above our weight on the world stage”.

“We’re one of several groups around the world that are looking at ice sheets and sea level rise and we’re going into the field – into Antarctica and getting the results.”

Golledge said his role was to develop simulations to predict sea levels 100 years from now based on current sea level information.

“The thing that’s really hard to get across to people is that essentially, when we emit greenhouse gases, as we are doing now, we are committing the planet to changes that are going to play out over the next century – particularly in terms of the ice sheets and the way they respond.”

Golledge said people think a sea level rise of 1.5 metres by 2100 was “a long way away” – “and 1.5m, wow who cares?”

“But there’s something that’s more important than the actual magnitude of sea level rise and that’s the frequency of what we call nuisance flooding so basically for every 10 centimetres of sea level rise, the amount of nuisance flooding you get around the coasts increase by a factor of three.

“Something like 10 per cent of the world’s population live within 10m of sea level, so it’s a huge number of people, a huge amount of money and resources – it’s a major problem for the global insurance industry and that’s how much people are going to feel it.

“They may not live by the coast but what happens is the insurance premiums go up and because of these increased flooding events, the reinsurance companies – the people that insure the insurers – get cold feet and they start putting up their premiums and that basically affects everybody.

“So it’s not just a problem for people who live by the sea unfortunately – it’s going to affect all of us.”

This prize, worth $500,000, is for a transformative scientific discovery or achievement, which has had a significant economic, health, social and/or environmental impact on New Zealand or internationally in the past five years.