How will sea level rise change the UK coastline?

Increasing global average temperatures cause sea levels to rise and threaten the homes and livelihoods of many coastal communities in northern Europe.

Sea level rise threatens coastal areas, highly vulnerable regions where a significant portion of the human population lives. As increasing temperatures cause an expansion of the ocean accompanied by rising sea levels, the shape of our coastlines will change. Digital tools allow us to visualize how these changes could affect the UK.

The impact of climate change on coastal areas

Coastal zones are densely populated, with several of the world’s large cities and growing urban areas located along the coastlines. Large cities like Tokyo in Japan, New York City in the USA, Shanghai in China, and Lagos in Nigeria are all coastal cities.

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Rising sea levels and coastal erosion are set to threaten many coastal communities in the UK ©️ Carl Court/Getty Images

Many phenomena induced by climate change threaten coastal areas and their inhabitants. Sea level rise, storms and storm surges, rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, and seawater migration into coastal aquifers all make coastal areas susceptible to the impact of climate change. This is made even more problematic by coastal areas’ high population density, with a large number of people likely to suffer the impacts of these phenomena.

Visualizing sea level rise

What do these climate-fuelled threats mean for the future of coastal areas and their communities? Even a seemingly slight difference in global warming can completely transform the shape of our coastlines and the lives of coastal communities worldwide.

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Historical landmarks are also at risk from rising sea levels ©️ Carl Court/Getty Images

Climate Central is an independent group of scientists and communicators researching and reporting climate change and its impact on human lives. They created a tool that can help us visualize the effect of sea level rise on coastal communities at different degrees of global warming: the Coastal Risk Screening Tool. This interactive tool shows which regions of the world are threatened by sea level rise and coastal flooding with the help of a global model of coastal elevations and the latest projections for future flood levels.

UK cities could end up underwater

According to the map, even with a 1.5-degree increase, the United Kingdom will feel the impact of sea level rise. Areas in Lincolnshire, the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Cambridgeshire, including the city of Hull, would be the worst affected in this scenario. The capital would also be affected, as parts of central London would already be below the tideline in 2100.

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Cities in northern Europe, such as Amsterdam (pictured), are also at high risk from sea level rise ©️ Pierre Crom/Getty Images

However, the UK wouldn’t be the only nation impacted by sea level rise at 1.5 degrees of global warming. A significant part of the Netherlands, Belgium, and north-western Germany, including cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Bruges, will be below the tideline in 2100.

Past the 1.5-degree threshold 

The effects of climate change-induced sea level rise get worse as global warming increases, altering life in our cities entirely.  Another tool elaborated by Climate Central, called Picturing Our Future, shows us how climate action or lack thereof will impact sea levels rise in the next hundreds of years.

These images show us how reaching 3 degrees of global warming could completely alter the look of landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Steeple Church in Dundee, and the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. While we may not witness these sea levels within our lifetimes, today’s choices from our leaders will keep much of the world as we know it from ending up swallowed by the sea.

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