Heavy rains in Rio de Janeiro cause flooding due to poor drainage infrastructure. These can contaminate water reserves, cause landslides, damage buildings and halt city activity. Flood-control plans are under way but they are not ambitious enough to mitigate the combined effects of heavy rainfall and sea level rise.

Earth.Org has mapped the flooding Rio de Janeiro could experience by 2100.

In the past year, Rio has experienced exceptionally strong precipitation leading to deadly floods. Aside from direct casualties, the floods put the health of many people at risk, especially those of lower income whose water reserves can be contaminated. Such events can spread disease like gastroenteritis or leptospirosis, along with mosquito-borne illness as these insects benefit from humid conditions. 

In 2012, the city undertook construction of four underground reservoirs and a diversion tunnel for the Joana River to improve flood control. However, these can only accommodate a 1-in-25 years flood, or a flood with a 25% chance of occurring in any given year. 

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. This would certainly increase the occurrence of so-called “100-year floods,” the term used to define a flood that statistically has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. If one of these surges hit Rio de Janeiro, this is what it would look like.

Sea Level RIse 2100 Rio de Janeiro

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 1m; extreme = 4m). 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).

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