By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Using a new scientific model, researchers have announced that coastlines around the world are in greater threat of being swallowed up by sea level rise (SLR) than previously thought. According to them this new forecast is likely to further put pressure on the economies and political systems of many countries around the world.
“The model, CoastalDEM, shows that many of the world’s coastlines are far lower than has been generally known and that sea level rise could affect hundreds of millions of more people in the coming decades than previously understood,” states researchers at Climate Central, a research and advocacy group.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications this week, estimates coastal elevation and improves upon previous forecasts based on NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.
According to CoastalDEM, approximately 110 million people currently live on land below the high tide line. By 2100, global sea levels are projected to rise between about two and seven feet, and possibly more and over 200 million people could sit permanently below that high tide line.
How much sea level will rise will depend on us human beings, say researchers Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp. “The key variables will be how much warming pollution humanity dumps into the atmosphere and how quickly the land-based ice sheets in Greenland and especially Antarctica destabilize,” say researchers.
Although the scientists agree that sea level rise will affect every coastal nation by 2100, they say the greatest effects will be seen in Asia, due to the high number of people living in low-lying coastal areas.
According to the Climate Central study, people living in coastal cities in China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand are the most vulnerable to sea level rise, with those six nations being responsible for almost three-fourths the total number of people to be displaced by rising waters.
The study, however, also shows cities in countries as distant as Nigeria, Brazil, and Egypt as being permanently underwater by 2100.
“Three of every four people in the Marshall Islands now live on land that could lie below high tide in the next eighty years. In the Maldives, the figure is one in three” reveals the study.
The estimates of future economic losses, from sea level rise, forecast in the trillions, should also increase, say researchers.
“In practice, the costs will run deeper than immediate physical damage to buildings and infrastructure, or the costs of adaptation,” states the study.
According to researchers, flooding will displace productive local economies and may also hinder global supply chains by limiting access to ports and coastal transportation.
Political consequences due to SLR are also likely. The displacement of millions of people is likely to place a strain on both the social services of those cities near the coastline, due to reduced revenues from taxes, as well as those cities receiving the shifting populations.
For these researchers, the recent migrations seen in Europe and Central America ‘pales in comparison to the potential displacements of the coming decades, when many millions of people could flee rising seas around the world—both across borders, and within them,” warns the study.
With a gloomy outlook, the Climate Central study states there is little people can do. Drastic reductions in global emission now would reduce only moderately the number of people affected by SLR in the coming years, say scientists, affecting much more the other risks involved with climate change than rising oceans.
They do suggest that governments of coastline areas avoid construction and protect or abandon existing infrastructure.
“Sea level rise is a near term danger: today’s communities must make choices not just on the behalf of future generations, but also for themselves,” concludes the study.