A new study uses extensive global elevation data to predict what familiar places around the world will look like in years to come if sea level rise caused by human-induced climate change continues apace.
The results support the assessment of sea level rise in the major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released earlier this year.
Sobering images show the impact of rising sea levels on well-known sites around the world, including the Sydney Opera House, Buckingham Palace, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper complex in Dubai, and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
Sea level rise is primarily caused by ice sheets melting as a result of global temperature increases. Because atmospheric carbon sticks around for a long time, the world will face some level of warming and sea level rise simply due to past emissions, even if we could immediately halt all carbon emissions today.
The paper considers sea level rise under various scenarios of global warming from 1.1°C (representing unavoidable sea level rise due to past carbon pollution) to 4°C (allowing unchecked carbon pollution to continue). The key possibilities to focus on are 1.5°C (the target set at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement) and 3°C of warming (our trajectory based on current emissions).
According to the authors of the paper, at least 50 major cities would face losing part of their current area if the planet warms by 3°C. Asian countries would be the hardest hit, with nine out of 10 of the large nations (and at least 25 million population as of 2010) most at risk from sea level rise located on the continent. Paradoxically, many of these countries have heavily invested in coal power infrastructure, including China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. Small island nations also face loss of up to 90% of their land mass under a 4°C warming scenario.
However, if the Paris Climate Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5°C warming target is reached, loss of land area to rising sea levels could be substantially reduced, the paper suggests – underscoring the importance of urgently reducing carbon emissions worldwide. The proof is in the pictures.
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