Maureen Raymo

My commitment: Finding and communicating the effects of sea-level rise so people can make good decisions about the future

In the summer of 2011, I landed at Lamont, returning to the same Columbia labs where I earned my PhD in 1989. There, I direct one of the largest deep-sea sediment core repositories in the world, Lamont-Doherty Core Repository. I focus on how global warming is causing polar ice sheets to melt and how this is causing oceans to rise around the world.

If even 10 percent of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melted, the resulting 6 meters (or twenty foot) sea-level rise would drown most of our major coastal cities. Using GPS and other instruments, I work with my students to map ancient shorelines around the world and determine where sea level stood three million years ago, when global average temperatures were 1°C to 2°C warmer than today—a mark we could reach by 2100.

There’s a huge amount of real estate and people living within a few meters of this risky zone. People have this vague idea that they’ll be able to deal with rising seas, keeping the ocean back. One just needs to visit Venice to appreciate how difficult such a task would be. What we do know is that sea level is rising, and the rate of that rise is accelerating. I want to better understand the history of ice sheets and sea-level change so people and governments can make good decisions about the future.