NYC could be underwater by 2065

Former NASA climate scientist Dr James Hansen has a history of being decried as alarmist before his views become accepted. “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” he told the United States Congress all the way back in 1988. Fast forward 27 years, and his latest paper might be the thing to finally cut through that waffling once and for all.

NYC could be underwater by 2065

Co-written by 16 other climate experts, it predicts that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt ten times as fast as our previous estimates, leading to a sea level that would rise by at least three metres in 50 years’ time.

Three metres may not sound like much, but coastal towns and cities were already considered in danger even with the previous, lower projections. If ever there were a report to make world leaders sit up and take notice, this is it.

“Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water, but you couldn’t live there,” Hansen told The Daily Beast.towns_flooding

Hansen left NASA to fight against climate change, saying at the time that “as a government employee, you can’t testify against the government”. Suffice it to say he’s not mincing his words in his latest paper, writing: “We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-metre sea-level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilisation.”

One important caveat to note with the study: the researchers followed the non-traditional route of publishing in an open-access discussion journal: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Open-access papers – as explained in the Alphr feature on open science here – haven’t been formally peer-reviewed, meaning that scientists are left to respond to the paper’s findings in real-time.

The reason for this unorthodox approach? Peer reviews take time, and Hansen believes the conclusions are vital enough that it needs to be in the public sphere before the United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Paris this year.

That sea levels are rising is widely accepted, but the pace described here is especially worrying, given the foreseeable threat to coastal cities around the world. New York, for example, would be right in the firing line, as would Mumbai, Guangzhou and Miami.

“Five areas of Britain were identified as particularly vulnerable to this kind of coastal erosion: East Anglia, Lincolnshire, north-west Scotland, south Wales and the Thames Estuary.”

Being an island, the UK has plenty to fear too. In 2011, it was reported that a rise of even one to two metres would “wreak havoc on Britain’s coastline by 2050”. Back then, five areas of Britain were identified as particularly vulnerable to this kind of coastal erosion: East Anglia, Lincolnshire, north-west Scotland, south Wales and the Thames Estuary.

If you want to see for yourself the impact rising water levels could have on the world, this interactive map is a good place to start. Do treat it with a pinch of salt, however: it was first published all the way back in 2006, and has a number of caveats. But it’s created from NASA data, and gives a taste of possible things to come as you play God and adjust the sea level to your liking.

This, as a point of reference, is what it looks like with three metres added:

britain_3m

Yikes.

Images: Muffinn and Christopher Michel used under Creative Commons 

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