Why the seas rise

Dr. Peter Neilley talks about this global and local issue.


The Vineyard Haven Public Library is happy to be hosting another lecture by local expert and year-round Chilmark resident Dr. Peter Neilley, again this year after his standing-room-only talk “The Basics of Global Warming” last year. In his talk “Why the Seas Rise,” he will be addressing the topic as it hits us near to home, while at the same time discussing the larger picture.

Neilley tells me that he will start by talking about the many factors that influence our rising seas, which he explains happen to all be conspiring against us here on the Vineyard. Neilley says, “They range from everything from melting glaciers to changes in the Earth’s gravity.” He also gave me a sneak preview of the other four of the six factors he will tell us about, and there are some you very likely would never have thought about before. He says, “I hope that listeners will enjoy some of the science behind the reasons for sea levels changing.”

“I want people to walk away with an understanding about the pace at which we expect sea levels to rise here on the Island,” Neilly said. “If you ask 10 people how much the seas are rising by 2050, you get 10 wildly different answers. There’s a huge amount of confusion about how much they will rise, and how quickly. I want to try to put some clarity to that.” He continues, “I plan to put the sea level rise numbers in perspective of some things we’ve done on the Island. For example, we’ve done some surveys of a couple places, like the Menemsha docks and others like that. I will talk about how often we expect these things to be underwater if we don’t do anything in 30 years, how often they will be underwater in a hundred years.”

Neilley’s background is in the atmospheric sciences. He explains, “I got my Ph.D. from MIT, including some crossover to MIT’s joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. While my career is focused mostly on weather, there is clearly a tight connectivity between weather and climate, and the atmosphere and the ocean. So, while I don’t study sea level rise as my ‘day job,’ there is so much overlap between weather, climate change, and the oceans, that it is a pretty easy crossover topic for me.”

Neilley said there is much confusion and misinformation regarding climate change in the general public. “As a scientist, I’ve taken interest in trying to help ensure that we make smart, fact-based decisions regarding climate change,” he says, “and that both the certainty and uncertainties in those facts is well understood in the decisions we make to best adapt our Island to a changing climate.”

With the pandemic still very much with us, you are sure to get a “seat” this time at Neilley’s virtual lecture.

“Why the Seas Rise” will take place via Zoom on Monday, Sept. 28, at 7 pm. To register, or for more information, contact Vineyard Haven library program coordinator Anne McDonough at amcdonough@clamsnet.org.