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The University of Southampton

Southampton Scientist contributes to new Government climate projections report

Published: 26 November 2018
Dr Pickering contributed to the Met Office's assessment of tidal changes

The Met Office has today published its latest assessment of how the climate of the UK will change over the 21st Century. Dr Mark Pickering from the University of Southampton has been one of the major contributors to the report's assessment of tidal changes as a result of rising sea levels.

The report (UKCP18) builds upon the Government's previous projections from 2009 (UKCP09), ensuring the most up-to-date scientific evidence informs decision-making. UKCP18 can be used as a tool to guide decision-making and boost resilience – for example through increasing flood defences, designing new infrastructure or adjusting ways of farming for drier summers. 

Dr Pickering was brought in to contribute to the Marine section of this report following his work on tidal changes over the last eleven years. A key paper published in 2012 suggested that tidal changes with future sea-level rise in Northwest Europe were larger and more widespread than previously thought. 

This research has been part of a number of European collaborations on the same topic, including an investigation for tides on a global scale. It prompted a number of studies with similar findings and led to the inclusion of tidal changes in the new UKCP18 report which Dr Pickering was invited to co-author in collaboration with Met Office scientists Dr Tom Howard and Dr Matthew Palmer.

In the UKCP18 report the Met Office also confirms the sensitivity of tidal range (height between high and low water) to rising sea levels. This means that tidal high water levels will both increase directly as sea levels rise but the sea level-rise could have a secondary effect that either causes a further increase or a decrease in tidal range changes. The way in which the tide may respond to a 3 meter sea-level rise, for example, varies substantially across regions, with potentially small (less than 5%) responses along the East Coast of Scotland and Northeast Coast of England, contrasting substantial (up to ~20% or 50cm) but complex changes in the Bristol Channel. Tidal range increases along the Southwest Coast of Scotland, at locations such as Millport (up to 20% or ~10cm), are suggested. Along the South Coast of England tides could increase along the Sussex coast by up to around 10% but decrease along the Dorset and south Devon coasts by a similar amount.

Illustrative sea-level rises of up to 3 meters during the 21st and 22nd centuries were considered and also hypothetical scenarios beyond 3 meters showing that tidal changes in many locations are not proportional to sea-level rise. These results confirm a secondary effect of sea-level rise on the tide and still water levels; further research to refine the model setup and assumptions is required to move toward to detailed projections.

This insight into the substantial and varying changes in the tides could have wide reaching implications to the local communities and coastal planners; including for example, designing the right flood defences, the availability of tidal renewable energy and the impact on local shipping.

Dr Pickering said:

I first read the previous UK Climate Projection report in 2008 when I was a studying at University of Southampton. After a decade of working on changing tides with sea-level rise it was a privilege to be invited to advise the Met Office on this area and I am really pleased that my research has informed their latest advice. This really matters to communities and local economies around the coast and I hope this will make a difference to how they adapt to rising sea levels for future generations.

The full UKCP18 report is available here.


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