In 2015, Sybren Drijfhout was appointed as Endowed Professor of Climate Dynamics. His chair, the Buys Ballot Chair, is one of the endowed chairs at the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and is a part of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU). Drijfhout is a leading researcher in the field of climate dynamics, serving as Professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of Southampton. He is also affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). He will give his inaugural lecture in the University Hall on 22 June, focusing on sea level rise.
Drijfhout’s work is not limited to just studying the climate; he also draws links to policy and government. His message is occasionally difficult for people to understand, because what happens off the coast of the Netherlands is not necessarily the result of developments in global sea level. “Regional sea level rise is truly a field of its own”, Drijfhout explains. “Over the past 20 years, the sea level on the Dutch coast has risen less than average, but the rise in sea levels in the mid-North Atlantic has been above average. However, due to changes in ocean currents, I predict that the sea level on the Dutch coast will rise much faster in the next twenty years.”
Rising sea levels at the regional and global levels are a big concern to Drijfhout. “Melting ice in Antarctica is a major problem. There is a delay in how fast the ice caps melt, so even if we stop global warming tomorrow, sea levels will continue to rise for hundreds of thousands of years to come.” Drijfhout tells about a new ice cap model that shows how in the worst-case scenario, the Dutch sea levels will rise by around three meters by 2100, and by perhaps as much as eight meters by 2200. “We don’t know exactly what consequences that will have for the Netherlands. But if we want to prepare our dikes to hold back a few meters of rising sea levels, we’ll need a hundred years of preparation. So we’re already behind schedule.”