The question of rising sea levels has, for University of Newcastle researcher Dr Hannah Power, already been settled. Sea levels will rise. And when they do, Newcastle's coastline, like all others, will change. What matters now is what we do about it.
The world's oceans are a regulator for all life on earth - the shifting of warm water from the tropics toward the poles and cool water in the opposite directions moderates the climate of the planet and is critical for sustaining life on the planet. Dr Power has spent her research career studying the ocean, with a particular focus on the coast and the way ocean waves behave and the impact of the changing climate on coastlines and estuaries.
"One of the key things we are going to have to deal with in the future is sea level rise," Dr Power says. As the oceans warm and expand, linked in part to carbon dioxide emissions, and as land-based ice in the form of glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt, the world's coastlines will inevitably change.
"Because the climate systems on earth have a very large amount of momentum in them, regardless of what we do tomorrow we are already locked in to a certain amount of sea level rise (but) what we do tomorrow will have a huge impact of how much sea level rise we see."
Dr Power's research has been interrogating the effects of sea level rise for years. In 2018, she participated in a unique study into impact of inundation from the sea modelled potential impact of a tsunami on the NSW coast, and early this year Dr Power's research on the Murray-Darling Basin's prehistoric past delivered findings that could become key to the effective management of the basin under climate change.
Dr Power studied marine science as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney where, according to her research biography, she "numerical aspects of oceanography, more than I liked biology".
"I did intend to end up a marine scientist, but have ended up at the other end of the spectrum," Dr Power says. "I like that in the work I do now, things can be quantified for most part. Everything can be described and predicted numerically and that appeals to my personality." Dr Power completed her PhD at the University of Queensland with a focus on coastal processes. She came to Newcastle in 2013, where she is currently appointed as the senior lecturer in the school of environmental and life sciences at the university of Newcastle. "The ultimate hope would be that as a global community, we take really significant action against climate change because that's what we really need to do," Dr Power says. "This is a global challenge that really requires a global effort to address it. And without it, we are really leaving a legacy for the next generations to deal with that will be increasingly difficult."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.