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What climate change and sea level rise will do to American cities

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The Houston Space Center surrounded by a moat; the famous beach in Santa Monica, California, completely submerged; a professional sports stadium in Washington, DC, transformed into a bathtub – these are just some of the striking images of the future of America’s largest cities without action to limit climate change, according to a new study from Climate Central, nonprofit research and communications.

Due to greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, average global temperatures have already risen by 1.2 ° Celsius (2.2 ° Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era, but as as glaciers and polar caps melt, there is a decades-long lag for sea level rise. So a team of researchers from Climate Central projected how much the waters would rise if the world only reached 1.5 ° C of warming, which is the target set by world leaders in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Hover and click / hold the cursor for before and after:

But even limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C will lead to flooding in and around some key sites. Santa Monica, for example, will lose its range at 1.5 ° C of warming, once sea level rise catches up. The projections also show how far the tide will rise in the heart of some of the world’s largest cities and the world’s most famous landmarks if this warming is doubled, which will happen 100 years from now if nations take no action to fight. against climate change.

“We expect, based on our current warming trajectory, to reach something close to 3 ° C this century,” said Peter Girard, communications director at Climate Central. “It will take a long time for the sea to rise to match this temperature. It may take centuries into the future, but we can understand with relative precision where it will eventually take hold. “

And this place will be troubling to many. Whether it’s an international landmark like Buckingham Palace in London or a more obscure site like the Texas Energy Museum in Beaumont, Texas, being underwater, images of the city’s streets transformed in rivers and once habitable buildings rising out of the water like piers are a stark warning of what may be to come.

Of course, in reality, these buildings won’t even necessarily be there if the world exceeds 2 ° C of warming. Long before an area is actually underwater, it will regularly experience flooding from heavy rains and storm surges – which are also becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. Buckingham Palace in London and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC, will have to be abandoned due to rising waters unless dramatic action is taken to save them.

Even though the nation’s capital and other U.S. cities such as Philadelphia included in the study are not on the coastline, they are connected to the ocean by rivers and their riparian areas are expected to face high levels of water. much higher water.

The consequences of rising sea levels will fall hardest in the developing world, where huge populations live in large coastal cities. According to an October 11 article published in Environmental Research Letters by the Climate Central researchers behind the project, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high level and warming reaches 4 ° C, ” 50 major cities, mainly in Asia, must defend themselves against unprecedented levels of exposure in the world, if possible, or face partial to almost total losses of the existing area. “

A major inflection point in efforts to prevent such catastrophic climate change is approaching when the successor to the Paris Agreement is negotiated in early November in Glasgow, Scotland. Currently, countries have not pledged enough emissions cuts or climate finance to avoid the warming scenarios Climate Central has explored, but the organization hopes to help spur more aggressive action.

“One of the opportunities to make decisions at the international level is in Glasgow and hopefully it will work by visualizing the issues contributing to a positive outcome,” said Girard.

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