A recent paper published in Nature triples the “estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding”. The upper projection of 2 metres sea level rise would displace up to 57 million people in China, most of these in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Earth.Org has mapped what extreme flooding could look like by 2100 to illustrate the need for action. 

Guangzhou is the capital of the Guangdong province in China, with nearly 15 million inhabitants, it is steadily growing with a large number of foreign temporary residents. It is built on the the Pearl River Delta’s alluvial plain which often experiences flooding. Urban expansion at the expense of natural drainage systems like swamps and Mangroves have exacerbated such events, but sea level rise is set to make things much worse.

As it is, Guangzhou is able to maintain its vibrant economic activity despite the inconvenience of floods, but the predicted 1 to 2 metres of sea level rise mean that the city will have to invest in flood mitigation before long. No detailed plan has been drafted yet, but the authorities will surely reveal one soon in light of the latest climate models. 

Earth.Org has modelled what severe flooding could look like in Guangzhou by the end of the century in the absence of protective measures. 

sea level rise by 2100 Guangzhou

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 2m; extreme = 5m). Percentage and total population displacement indicated bottom right.


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: is 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 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 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 to choose 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 Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.

Luck: applies to the 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).