A governmental body in Colombia has estimated that 17 000 hectares of its land could be reclaimed by the sea by 2040. This puts its major coastal cities, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, at risk of severe flooding. This could cause structural damage, freshwater shortages, agriculture damage, and loss of tourism. 

Earth.Org has mapped what these urban floods could look like by 2100. 

Located near the Caribbean Sea, Barranquilla is the fourth largest city in Colombia. Home to 2.4 million inhabitants, it lies next to the Magdalena River and serves as a major port for riverine and maritime trade. It faces many natural threats, from river floods to landslides, that will be magnified by climate change. 

Barranquilla is surprisingly devoid of rainwater drainage systems, representative of poor city planning, and high vulnerability to flood risks. When the city floods, the roads turn into dangerous, fast-flowing rivers called arroyos that can sweep away cars, let alone people. 

Sea level rise is set to worsen the situation, and the Ministry of Environment has been pushing for legislation and planning to prepare the country against disaster. Some level of agreement on the importance of the issue has been reached, but there is no clear plan of action. In a plea for awareness and action, Earth.Org has modelled what severe floods could look like by 2100, along with how many people would be displaced.

sea level rise by 2100 barranquilla

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 1m; extreme = 3m). Percentage and total population displacement indicated bottom right.

Sea Level Rise Methodology

Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 2m at the end of this century. However, in order to determine local sea level rise (SLR), one has to take into account local coastal flood levels which could be 2.8m above Mean Higher-High Water (MHHW) at extreme forecasts. These local levels bring variability to the projected SLR from 1m to 6.5m (eg. Rio vs Kolkata).

The SLR scenarios used in this study are based on the forecasts from Climate Central – Coastal Risk Screening Tool  with the following parameters:

Sea level Projection Source:

From two highly cited journals by Kopp et al., estimating SLR mainly due to ocean thermal expansion and ice melt. The mid-range scenario projected 0.5-1.2m of SLR based on different representative concentration pathways (RCP) defined by the IPCC. While the pessimistic scenario added more mechanisms of ice-sheet melting, estimating SLR at 1m-2.5m in 2100, with a projection of 10m SLR at 2300.

Coastal Flooding

More frequent coastal flooding is a direct impact of sea-level rise. Based on the Global tides and surge reanalysis by Muis et al., (2016), it is estimated that the extreme coastal water level could be from 0.2 – 2.8m over the mean level. While in extreme cases like China and the Netherlands it could experience 5-10m of extreme sea levels. Here, the coastal local flood level is added on top of the projected SLR.

Pollution Scenario:

Allows choosing the RCP, the greenhouse gas concentration trajectory defined by the IPCC.  The mild level is based on RCP4.5, of 2°C temperature rise; while the Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.


Applies to the baseline SLR, defined in the “Sea level projection” section, upon which we add flooding. “Mild” refers to the mid-range scenario of 0.5-1.2m, and “extreme” to the pessimistic scenario of 1-2.5m. We used the high-end value of each scenario (mild = 1m; extreme = 2.5m).

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