Sea-Level Rise Could Flood 7% of World's Populated Regions, Threatens Cultural Heritage Sites Like Statue Of Liberty

By Gabrielle Jonas on March 7, 2014 11:48 AM EST

Global warming will lead to major flooding of familiar towns and cities worldwide, some experts predict.
Global warming will lead to major flooding of familiar towns and cities worldwide, some experts predict.

Some of the world's most beloved landmarks could be lost to rising sea-levels if current global warming trends are maintained over the next two thousand years, asserts a new study published in the IOP's journal Environmental Research Letters. Two meteorologists calculated the temperature increases and rising sea levels which would not only put "World Heritage sites" as defined by UNESCO underwater, but city centers and entire regions as well. The Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Tower of London and Sydney Opera House would be among the 136 sites to be submerged if the current global warming trend continued and temperatures rose to three degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels in the next 2000 years; a likely and not particularly extreme scenario, argued co-authors Ben Marzeion, of the Institute for Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Austria, and Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam University, Germany. The city centers of Naples, St. Petersburg; Venice, and Westminster Abbey would also be submerged. 

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Marzeion and Levermann estimated sea levels for the next 2,000 years and computed which current cultural sites would be affected by sea-level rise at different levels of sustained global warming.  Rising global mean temperature of the atmosphere will warm up the ocean, and the melting of  large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica would swell the ocean. It's not enough to consider the socio-economic impact of climate change and sea-level rise on our own century, Marzeion and Levermann said: We need to consider even longer time scales to inform societal decisions. Even if global warming came to a standstill, they argued, ocean heat uptake and melting continental ice would not abate until hundreds of years thereafter.  

If the current global mean temperature was sustained for the next two millennia, about six percent, or 40 of the cultural world heritage sites, would be flooded. But if global warming were to increase by three centigrade degrees, almost 20 percent, or 136 of the Cultural World Heritage sites would be affected, and a little over one percent of global land area would be below mean sea level. At this warming level, three to 12 countries would lose more than half of their current land surface; 25 to 36 countries would lose at least 10 percent of their territory, and seven percent of the global population would find the regions they were living in below local sea level. "Fundamental decisions with regard to mankind's cultural heritage are required," wrote Dr. Marzeion in the study.

In the liklihood of a three percent centigrade temperature increase over the next 2,000 years, seven countries, including the Maldives, Bahamas and Cayman Islands would lose 50 percent of their land to permanent flooding and a further 35 countries would cede10 percent of their land to the ocean, the meteorologists predicted.  Seven per cent of the current global population would be living on land that would be below sea level, with more than 60 per cent of the affected population would be in China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.  Unfortunately for this scenario, the world population is concentrated near the coasts, as are a large number of cultural world heritage sites.

"What this work is showing is that we are putting expiration dates on our cultural heritage by emitting greenhouse gases, and we need to decide whether we say: 'It was nice to have had these places for a few centuries or millennia, or whether we want to try to preserve them for future generations," Dr. Marzeion told the International Science Times. "Two-thousand years is a very long time, but the somewhat scary fact is that our decisions and actions today matter for such a long time." 

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