Mumbai has been declared one of the most vulnerable cities to climate change due to its high population density, economic importance and flood-proneness. Rising sea levels will worsen the effects of severe flooding, like the 2005 Maharashtra episode that caused a direct loss of USD $100 million, with many more knock-on costs.

Earth.Org has mapped what extreme water surges could look like in Mumbai by 2100.

Climate change is already affecting the central belt of India from Mumbai to Bhubaneshwar, as demonstrated by the three-fold increase in heavy rainfall events from 1901 to 2015. These can sometimes last for 2 to 3 days and paralyse cities for even longer. This is due to antiquated drainage systems, much like in Kolkata. Mumbai storm-drainage was set up in the early 1900s with a maximum throughput of 25 millimetres per hour. Highly insufficient for dealing with downpours reaching 993 millimetres in 24 hours. 

Like other Indian and South-East Asian countries, Mumbai suffers from uncontrolled, unplanned development, especially in its northern suburbs. This means poorly designed drainage plans that accommodate a small area but don’t function on a city-wide scale. The city is therefore unequipped to deal with exceptionally strong floods. 

An ambitious plan was commissioned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in 1990, meant to overhaul the drainage system but it was rejected for being too costly (6 billion rupee, USD $800 million). It is indeed a huge sum, but is it a necessary cost? A recent paper published in Nature estimates that, under high emissions scenarios, global sea levels could rise by an average 1 to 2 meters by 2100. Combined with a severe downpour, a flood like the one below could hit Mumbai.

Sea Level Rise 2100 Mumbai

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 3m; extreme = 5m). 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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