Visualizing the Effects of Sea Level Rise on U.S. Cities

A report from Climate Central calls for urgent action, illustrating the potential devastating impact of even a small rise in global temperature on the coastline of major cities.

2 minute read

October 19, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Climate Change

Sarah Bray / Shutterstock

Even if the world manages to hold climate change down to just a 1.5 degree rise in temperature, reports Ben Adler, the resulting sea level rise will create disastrous conditions in some of the world's major coastal cities. A group of researchers from Climate Central calculated just how much water will rise in cities around the world given a 1.5 degree warming and found that flooding would occur "in and around some key sites."

For example, Santa Monica, California "will lose its beach." Other famous places, such as London's Buckingham Palace, could end up underwater, and "the images of city streets turned to rivers and once-inhabitable buildings sticking out of the water like piers are a striking warning of what may be to come."

Adler reminds us that "[l]ong before an area is actually underwater, it will face regular flooding from heavy rainfalls and storm surges — which are also becoming more frequent and severe because of climate change." Some of the landmarks represented in the study would "have to be abandoned due to rising waters unless dramatic action is taken to save them." Even cities not near the coast would see lasting impacts around the rivers and waterways that connect them to the ocean.

"The consequences of sea level rise will fall hardest in the developing world, where huge populations live in large coastal cities." The report warns that "if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high level and warming reaches 4°C, '50 major cities, mostly in Asia, would need to defend against globally unprecedented levels of exposure, if feasible, or face partial to near-total extant area losses.'"

The successor to the Paris climate agreement is up for negotiation this November. "Currently, nations have not pledged enough emissions cuts or climate finance to avert the warming scenarios that Climate Central explored, but the organization’s hope is to help spur more aggressive action."

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