One of the world’s leading scientists on sea level rise under climate change has received an award recognising cutting-edge science. 

Professor Jonathan Gregory, a senior scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading and Met Office Hadley Centre, was awarded a BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award. He was awarded the Climate Change prize for his research that has advanced understanding of how sea levels will rise in the future due to climate change.

He was awarded the prize alongside Anny Cazenave, emeritus scientist at the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS) in France, and John Church, professor in the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Professor Gregory said: “Sea-level rise may be inevitable, but this should not lead us to inaction. Even in the best emission reduction scenario, sea-level rise is not stabilised at the end of the 21st century. It will proceed for many centuries to come, because the time scale for the warming of the deep ocean is centuries or millennia.

“However, we can have an influence on how much and how fast it will happen. We can’t stop the increase, but it is not too late to do something to mitigate it and reduce its impact.”

Sea level rise could potentially have some of the most severe consequences for the planet, affecting hundreds of millions of people, yet it is one of the most challenging areas for scientists to understand due to its large natural variability.

The work of the award winners has provided evidence that human activity has been a chief factor driving sea level rise. Sea levels are rising at a rate that has been increasing since the mid-19th century, with current estimates suggesting levels are rising by 3cm per decade. 

Professor Gregory contributed as lead author to the Third, Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the chapters dealing with sea-level rise and ocean observation. Among other distinctions, he holds the FitzRoy Prize of the Royal Meteorological Society, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the American Geophysical Union. Professor Gregory this week co-authored a paper providing the first ever estimates for ocean temperature increase across the world, going back to 1871.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards recognise and reward individuals who have made an impact in science, art and the humanities. It is split across eight categories, ranging from environmental science to opera.

The BBVA Foundation is run by multinational Spanish banking group BBVA, and was supported in the Awards by the Spanish National Research Council.