There has been considerable recent scientific and media interest with regards to rising sea levels. This has been attributed to two main factors; thermal expansion of the oceans (the steric effect) and increased meltwater production from the cyrosphere. These factors have been linked to the ever-growing evidence of anthropogenically induced climate change which has resulted in a wide range of predictions regarding the severity of future sea-level rise. Today 33.5% of the world’s population lives within 100m of current sea level whilst most of the world’s major cities are located in low-lying coastal zones, thus the rise of just a few meters could have catastrophic impacts.
Taking inspiration from something on twitter (find me @SharkDevocean) called #drownyourtown developed by Andrew David Thaler (@SFriedScientist), I thought it would be interesting to see how my current city of Southampton may hold up under drastic global warming scenarios.
With just 5m of sea level rise, it is clear that large parts of the city would be underwater. The National Oceanography Centre (where I am based) would be entirely under water (This is partly due to Google maps not recognising it as a 3-D building, but it is safe to say the first floor would be pretty soggy). I am based on the 6th floor, so for now I’m safe.
Ocean village is completely submerged. The St Mary’s Football Stadium where the local Southampton F.C. play has effectively become a swimming pool. Much of the main city centre is still dry for the time being.
Turning up the level of devastation, here is how 10m of sea level rise might affect the city. The ocean has now encroached even further into the city. The slight elevation of the city centre however, is allowing for most of the cities local amenities to be spared. The West Quay shopping centre and Costa coffee are still open, so for now there is no need to worry too much. For those of you living in Portswood and Shirley, you’re high and dry…..
Things really start getting damp with 15m rises in sea level. The historic Bargate building at the top of High Street has taken considerable water damage. The Christmas markets, placed a little further north of here, will no doubt be starting to worry. This may not be a bad thing though. The close proximity of the newly established boat moorings could very well increase foot flow through many of the local businesses located in city centre.
Its safe to say once sea levels have risen above 20m, it’s every man for them selves. Sell the car and bike because you’ll need a boat to get around. The streets are now teaming with blue sharks that have been attracted to the new availability of underwater butchers and restaurants. One of the few remaining landmarks is the town hall clock tower (at least we can all rest easy knowing we can still tell the time during this devastation). You’ll now need scuba gear to use the West Quay and Marlands shopping centres. On the other hand, I’m sure it would make a great dive site like no other you’ve experienced…..plus discover ancient lost treasures from one of the many underwater jewellery shops.
Now these visualisations are huge over estimations of potential sea-level rise. By 2095 estimations of sea level rise could be anywhere between 18cm to 1.3m. However, at the end of the last ice age (about 10,000 years ago), as temperatures increased by 4-7°C, sea levels were raised by to 120m. Antarctica contains around 65m of potential sea level rise in terms of stored water, thus ice sheet retreat represents a significant threat to global populations through substantial coastal flooding.
Now being a shark biologist, I claim no expertise in climatology. I am however very aware of the current increased rates of global warming. Whether you believe this warming is naturally or anthropogenically induced, I think we can all make a conscious effort to reduce our carbon footprint. Cycle to work, turn off electrical items when not using them, use your washing machine on a lower heat setting, the list of things you can individually do is huge. Cumulatively individuals CAN make a positive change. Make a change for the better because who knows, in the near future we could be sharing our streets with the sharks
For more details on reducing your carbon footprint see: http://www.carbonfootprint.com/minimisecfp.html