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Unprecedented threats to cities from multi-century sea level rise


Strauss,  Benjamin H.
External Organizations;

Kulp,  Scott A.
External Organizations;

Rasmussen,  D. J.
External Organizations;


Levermann,  Anders
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Strauss, B. H., Kulp, S. A., Rasmussen, D. J., Levermann, A. (2021): Unprecedented threats to cities from multi-century sea level rise. - Environmental Research Letters, 16, 11, 114015.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_26084
A portion of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, raising temperatures and sea levels globally. Most nations' emissions-reduction policies and actions do not seem to reflect this long-term threat, as collectively they point toward widespread permanent inundation of many developed areas. Using state-of-the-art new global elevation and population data, we show here that, under high emissions scenarios leading to 4 ∘C warming and a median projected 8.9 m of global mean sea level rise within a roughly 200- to 2000-year envelope, at least 50 major cities, mostly in Asia, would need to defend against globally unprecedented levels of exposure, if feasible, or face partial to near-total extant area losses. Nationally, China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam, global leaders in recent coal plant construction, have the largest contemporary populations occupying land below projected high tide lines, alongside Bangladesh. We employ this population-based metric as a rough index for the potential exposure of the largely immovable built environment embodying cultures and economies as they exist today. Based on median sea level projections, at least one large nation on every continent but Australia and Antarctica would face exceptionally high exposure: land home to at least one-tenth and up to two-thirds of current population falling below tideline. Many small island nations are threatened with near-total loss. The high tide line could encroach above land occupied by as much as 15% of the current global population (about one billion people). By contrast, meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris Climate Agreement will likely reduce exposure by roughly half and may avoid globally unprecedented defense requirements for any coastal megacity exceeding a contemporary population of 10 million.