Like any city built around a major river, London may be exposed to flooding as a result of sea level rise. Despite its government’s recognition of climate change and its wealth, at least 1 million Londoners live in a natural floodplain, and 16% of the city’s properties are considered to be at risk. 

Earth.Org has mapped the high-level flood potential London could suffer by 2100.

Londoners have been aware of the Thames river’s threat for a long time, and decided to build a large flood defence system that was completed 1982. It spans 520 meters across, and lifts up 10 steel gates to shut off the river’s flow, guarding London against tidal surges. There has been a lot of variation in how many uses these barriers have seen per year, but they had to be shut 50 times in 2013-2014, which was far above average.

The barriers aren’t expected to make it past 2070 before they need a replacement, and the UK Environment Agency’s plan for flood defence will cost several billion pounds. We model what extreme flooding in 2100 would look like in London in the absence of the barriers, demonstrating why it is so crucial for governments to allocate resources for preventive measures.

Sea level rise 2100 london

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 4m; extreme = 6m). Percentage and total population displacement indicated bottom right.

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: 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).

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