Sea-level rise is speeding up, says Princeton climatologist Michael Oppenheimer

Liz Fuller-Wright ・ The Office of Communications

On Sunday, Jan. 12, the Princeton Environmental Institute’s Michael Oppenheimer spoke on CBS’ “60 Minutes ”with reporter John Dickerson about how climate change has exacerbated flooding in Venice, Italy.

“Venice is facing an existential threat to the city as it has been,” said Oppenheimer, Princeton’s Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute. He has published about 200 articles in professional journals, and for the past 30 years, almost all of his papers have covered aspects of climate change science and climate change policy. He is one of 11 Princeton faculty members who shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which he has been part of since 1990.

The threat from rising seas certainly isn’t limited to Venice, Oppenheimer said, mentioning low-lying American cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Key West, Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah and Honolulu.

“Sea level is rising almost everywhere on Earth,” he said, and as he and several others documented in their September 2019 report to the United Nations.

“Not only is sea level rising, the rise is accelerating – it’s happening faster and faster,” Oppenheimer said. “By the year 2050, which is only 30 years into the future, many places around the world, including in the U.S., are going to experience the ‘historical,’ ‘once-in-a-hundred-year’ flood level once a year or more frequently. Let me repeat that: An event that used to cause severe flooding once a century, we’re going to get that same water level once a year.”

In April 2019, Oppenheimer testified before Congress, giving a brief, thorough history of climate science. (His written testimony is available.)

At Princeton, Oppenheimer is also the director of the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as well as a faculty associate of the Program in Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and a member of the executive committee of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.


Climate science and modeling were the focus of the first panel of the Oct. 24-25 Princeton Environmental Forum, “It’s Getting Hot Out There … Weird Weather and Other Climate Change Anomalies.” Video of the that panel and entire conference are available online.