Sea level rise: coming to a place near you

It has been said that our coastal cities are but castles made of sand.  And like sand, they will fall into the sea, eventually.  No one can tell the day or the hour, but with the expected rise of sea levels from the warming of the world and the measured melt of its polar regions, we know that it will happen.


Figure 1 (Vermeer & Rahmstorf 2009).  Current projections call for 1 or more meters of sea level rise by 2100

Currently we're on track to reach 1 meter sometime between 2070 and 2090 in business as usual (the A scenarios), and even most likely by 2100 in Scenario B1 (which assumes a major move away from fossil fuels toward alternative and renewable energy as the century progresses).

A wise man once asked: 

"How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? 
How many years must a mountain exist before it's washed to the sea?   
How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn't see? 
How many deaths will it take till he knows too many people have died? 
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind..."

The effects of sea level rise, like the meaning of the song above, is different to each of us.  So what will sea level rise look like where you live, when it does come?  Using the map visualization tools provided from the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona, we can figure that out.  Let's take a look, shall we?

America the Soggy

Portions of the United States stand to be hard-hit by sea level rise.  None will be more impacted than New Orleans, Louisiana and Miami, Florida.  Note that the areas in red delineate those inundated by the first meter of sea level rise, those in tan (sorry, didn't pick the colors) by an additional 5-meter rise in sea levels above and beyond the first meter of rise (for a total of 6 meters of rise).

Big Easy

Map 1.  New Orleans This time, the story's over.


Map 2.  Miami and south Florida.  Our memories of South Beach will only come from reruns of Miami Vice.

Moving up the Atlantic coast, other impacted areas include:  Savannah - Charleston, Cape Hatteras, Washington DC (see below for the close-up of the Nation's Capital), Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.


Map 3.  Washington DC (closeup).  Yes, we did (it).

A look at the rest of the US: San Diego, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Prudhoe Bay of Alaska

Water World


Map 4.  One meter of sea level rise wipes out the International Court at The Hague; 6 meters, most of the Netherlands.

Australia:  Brisbane, Sydney


Brazil: Rio de Janeiro

China: Beijing, Shanghai

Denmark:  Copenhagen

Egypt:  Cairo

England:  Liverpool, London

Ireland:  Dublin

Italy:  Pisa, Venice, downtown Venice

Japan: Tokyo, downtown Tokyo



New Zealand:  Christchurch

Orinoco River Delta



Map 5.  The poster child for sea level rise, the Maldives was once a vast island during the last glacial maximum, when sea levels were at their lowest ebb.  Reduced now to but a string of island dots on a map, the Maldives will soon cease to be anything but a distant memory for our descendants.  And a lasting testament to the willful folly of mankind.

We live now, in the present.  Here in the present, sea level rise of the magnitudes portrayed above have yet to come to pass.  But they will, eventually.  Perhaps not in our lives but in that of those that yet live, or have yet to be.  But come, it will.

And how many nations will cease to be before mankind acts?  How many cities inundated?  How many lives lost?  The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind...

Posted by Daniel Bailey on Friday, 18 March, 2011

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