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Rising sea levels to sink Shanghai, says study

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Photo credit: SupChina illustration

Shanghai in Chinese literally means “upon the sea” (上海 shànghǎi). But if the projections in a new study are correct, China’s most populous city may very well be “under the sea,” or 下海 xiàhǎi, by the end of the century.

The new calculations: Two scientists at an organization called Climate Central found a more accurate method to estimate land elevation from satellite data.

  • Sea level rise due to climate change will be at least 0.5 meters by the end of the century, even with “sharp, immediate cuts to carbon emissions,” and levels could rise by two meters or more.
  • Tens of millions more people than previously thought are vulnerable to these rises in sea level, when compared with the more accurate land elevation data.

The consequences for China: Approximately 43 million to 57 million people in China currently live on land that will be under sea level at high tide by the end of the 21st century, according to models in the paper. This makes China one of the worst countries affected.

  • The Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas, where Shanghai and Guangzhou are located, have high concentrations of people in low-lying land.

The challenge of coping: Besides mass relocations of people, there are expensive defensive measures like levies that will have to be built soon to deal with this problem in the long run. The paper’s coauthors talked with the New York Times (porous paywall) to comment on the global ramifications of sea level rise from climate change.

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