Cities are sinking due to climate change and human activity.
There’s no denying the fact that climate change is real. The sea levels are rising and the global temperature is increasing at an alarming rate. More than 200 medical journals have published a statement underscoring that the results of an increase in global temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius will be catastrophic. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change warned that extreme sea levels will become more common by the end of the century around the world and the rise will be 1-2 meters by 2100. NASA predicts that high tide floods will also cause severe flooding in the U.S.’s coastal areas. The findings aren’t mere predictions; the U.S. has fought back-to-back extreme weather crises this year.
The Maldives—the world’s lowest-lying country—is at risk of disappearing, so it’s planning a floating city as a means of survival. But there are many other cities around the world that are facing this threat due to rising sea levels and subsidence (over-extraction of groundwater that makes the land sink). Here’s a round-up of what the world is facing losing by 2100 if things don’t change.
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Economic think tank Resources for the Future warns that Miami will be the most vulnerable coastal city in the world. There are many factors adding to the region’s woes: the rapidly rising sea levels and the porous limestone rocks that it’s built on. Water is coming from the ground and infiltrating drinking water. Sunny-day flooding, or high tide flooding, is causing damage to infrastructure and disrupting lives—and it’s likely to get worse.
The sea level in South Florida has risen up to 5 inches since 1993 and it is expected to rise another 6 inches by 2030. A 6 feet rise by 2100 will cause 1 in 8 properties in Florida to be underwater. By the end of this century, 94.1% of habitable land will be underwater.
Miami is elevating roads and installing pumps in areas, but the real estate market along the coast is still going strong, even though these homes are at most risk.
The lagoon city faces floods regularly. High tides and sirocco winds cause Acqua Alta (high waters) that last for a few hours. In November 2019, it witnessed the highest water levels in 50 years, and 90% of the city was flooded. Last year, the floating city tested its floodgates, MOSE, which has 78 gates to protect the lagoon during high tides. It was designed in the 1980s, but work started in 2003 and it’s still not complete. Scientists and experts argued at the time that it’s a short-term solution and will destroy the lagoon ecosystem.
The fact remains that Venice is sinking at the rate of 0.08 inches every year. Rising sea levels globally add to the problem, but the city is also suffering due to coastal erosion and groundwater pumping. In 2021, the government banned large cruise ships from sailing through Venice to save the lagoon city from further pollution and damage.
The capital of Indonesia is the fastest sinking city in the world—it’s sinking at the rate of 6.7 inches per year. By 2050, 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged, according to researchers. The region has already sunk 2.5 meters in 10 years and almost half the city is below sea level.
Apart from the rising sea level, the populous city is also getting impacted by excessive groundwater pumping. Much of the population depends on groundwater and pumps their own from underground aquifers because piped supply is unreliable. However, over extraction of groundwater causes the land to sink due to change in pressure and that’s what’s happening here.
The financial capital of India is also at risk of being submerged by 2050, NASA warns. It’s one of the 12 coastal cities in India that is threatened due to rising sea levels. South Mumbai will face the worst of it.
Every year, the city experiences flooding during monsoon season and IPCC has predicted that rainfall will increase in this century. The temperature is also rising in the city and extreme weather events are more common, too. McKinsey India released a report in 2020 that predicted that the intensity of flash floods will increase by 25% by 2050 and a 0.5-meter rise in sea level will affect 2-3 million people living within one kilometer of the coast.
The low-lying Thai capital is also under grave threat—it’s sinking at the rate of 1 centimeter per year. The city experiences heavy rainfall and is built on soft clay that’s withstanding the weight of urban development. Add to it the rising water levels and extensive groundwater extraction, then you have a case of sinking land. The Thai National Reform Council has warned that Bangkok could get inundated in less than 15 years.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Did you know that around one-third of the Netherlands is below sea level? The lowest point is 22 feet below sea level. The country has an extensive system of dams, dikes (low walls), pumps, and storm surge barriers to keep its head above waters. But there’s another problem in the country: land subsidence.
Rotterdam, already 90% underwater, is sinking at the rate of 1-1.5 centimeters per year. It is predicted to witness 1-2 meters of sea-level rise by 2100, leaving it at great risk of flooding due to the rising water and sinking land.
The historic Egyptian city has treasures buried under it, from Cleopatra’s palace to the remains of the Lighthouse of Pharos. Since it was built by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria has been consumed by the sea over centuries due to earthquakes and a tsunami, and the coastline of ancient Alexandria is now gone. Now due to rising sea levels—more than two feet are predicted by the end of this century—the low-lying city is again at risk of being submerged.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The sea level in Virginia Beach is rising at almost twice the global rate—it is one of the fastest rates on the East Coast and land subsidence is a major contributing factor. Frequent flooding on high tide days is also common, even without storms. Projected sea level rise in an extreme scenario may reach as much as 11.8 feet by 2100, submerging the city flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.
The city has introduced a program, Sea Level Wise, to mitigate the risks and build infrastructure to prepare for flooding.
New Orleans, Louisiana
NASA has revealed that some parts of New Orleans are sinking as much as 2 inches per year. Around 50% of the city is already below sea level. After Hurricane Katrina, it saw massive flooding and devastating loss and upgraded its flood-control system. But with the land sinking due to subsidence and sea level rising, there’s a looming threat. CNN reports that by 2100, New Orleans will be between 2.5 and 4 meters below sea level.
Annual floods in the coastal city of Nigeria are part of everyday life. Coastal erosion and rising sea levels have been linked to flooding and poor urban planning, uncontrolled growth, and poor drainage systems are compounding the problem.
The low-lying city (less than 2 meters above sea level) may become inhabitable by the end of this century, CNN reports. A study led by Institute of Development Studies (IDS) states, “Sea level rise associated with climate change, estimated as potentially reaching 59 cm by 2100, is likely to worsen problems of coastal inundation, flooding, and intrusion of seawater into freshwater sources and ecosystems in Lagos.”
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Floods ravage Vietnam’s largest city every year and they’re getting more destructive. Around 45% of the city is less than a meter above sea level, and rapid development and groundwater pumping has caused subsidence. The city has already sunk half a meter in the past 25 years and by 2050, parts of Ho Chi Minh will be swallowed.