Millions of People Will be Threatened by Sea-Level Rise in the Next Years

New research concludes that even if we were to completely stop greenhouse gases emissions, by the year 2100, Earth’s oceans would still rise. The exact measurements suggest a rise from one foot and a half to three.

The study was published in the journal ​Nature Communications, ​and it says that three times more coastal residents all over the world are at risk of sea-level rise and flooding than earlier researches concluded.

Two climate scientists, Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss from the Climate Central organization, are the authors of the paper. They reached the conclusion that approximately 110 million people all over the world reside on land that is below the current high-tide line. In the meantime, about 250 million people live on land below the current annual flood levels. Moreover, their model depicts that a considerable number of people live just above today’s high-tide line.

In the last century, the average sea level all over the world has already risen by 6 inches (15 centimeters) because of warming water and melting ice sheets. This has led to high-tide flooding or tidal flooding. This type of flooding can occur any time ocean water rises to higher levels than the coastal structure was created to allow.

Cutting Greenhouse-Gas Emissions is the Best Solution

As part of the research, scientists analyzed data from 135 different countries across several emissions scenarios and time-frames. Generally, international flood-risk evaluations use data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), which observed the development of countries worldwide from space.

However, Strauss explained that particular data utilizes the tops of buildings as representatives for elevation, not the actual height of the ground the buildings are built on. The two researchers used a new technique created to correct that inconsistency. They discovered that even under a greatly optimistic scenario in which greenhouse-gas emissions peak in 2020 and then decline, 190 million people would live on land below sea-level by the end of this century.

[Image: Kulp & Strauss, Nature, 2019]
If emissions continue to increase through 2100, the number could get to 630 million people all over the world. The results of the research suggest that people living in Asia, Indonesia, in particular, are abnormally at risk of this issue.

The model implies that by 2050, 237 million people based in China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand could be faced with annual coastal flooding threats. By 2100, if emissions are still the same or go higher, that number could get to 250 million.

“The biggest take-home message is: The number of people who will be threatened by sea-level rise this century is extraordinary,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund Arctic Program, recently said.

According to Strauss, the results of this study should be taken as a motivation to address greenhouse-gas emissions now.

“Even as we show there’s a far greater threat from sea-level rise, we now know that there are far greater benefits to cutting emissions,” he said. “This new data can be a useful tool for cities and countries to plan better for the future their coastal populations are facing.”

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