Photo: Ihor Serdyukov/Shutterstock

Wipe Out: World's Most Vulnerable Coastal Cities

by Julie Schwietert Sep 2, 2009
What’s the back-up plan for those of us who live in one of these cities?

Yesterday, I was listening to The Brian Lehrer Show, a program on my local public radio station here in New York City. One segment featured scientists Rob Young and Orrin Pilkey, authors of the recently published book, The Rising Sea.

Young and Pilkey, climate change specialists, spoke about the 10 cities they deem most at risk from sea level rise caused by climate change. The cities are:

1. Miami, Florida, USA

Miami is the seventh largest city in the United States, so any abrupt sea change here would impact the lives of millions. Average elevation? Just six feet.

A Miami blogger, citing a July 2009 New Scientist article, wrote recently that even rapid action to decelerate climate change is unlikely to prevent an inevitable swallowing up of Miami by the sea. Instead, he argued, the only logical plan B for the city is to stop building in vulnerable areas…which is almost everywhere.

2. Venice, Italy

Venice is known as the city of water for good reason. Since 1897, the mean sea level around Venice has increased by three inches. That may not sound like much over a period just a shade longer than a century, but coupled with the phenomenon of sinking land, the public television show NOVA has referred to Venice as a city under environmental siege.

3. New York, New York, USA

What would New York City be like under water? Scientists predict that we may find out far sooner than anyone expected. According to this article from Science Daily, “Global warming is expected to cause the sea level along the northeastern U.S. coast to rise almost twice as fast as global sea levels during this century,” putting New York City at particular risk.

4. Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Mumbai is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, which makes predicted sea change effects here particularly frightening. Besides the fact that many parts of the city are just 46 feet above the Arabian Sea, Mumbai is known to have a poor drainage system and–as if that wasn’t enough–it’s located in a major seismic zone.

Low elevation+poor drainage+seismic zone+rising sea levels= inevitable disaster.
5. Singapore

Singapore was accurately described by The New York Times in 2007 as “surrounded by sea and almost pancake flat.” Though its highest peak is 540 feet above sea level, the vast majority of inhabited space is just a few feet above sea level. The inevitable slip into the sea is being addressed by the government, which has reached out to Dutch dam-building experts to help reinforce the Singaporean sea wall.

6. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

The vulnerability of New Orleans to the whims of the ocean was laid painfully bare by Hurricane Katrina. The highest point in the city is only six feet above sea level, and being surrounded by water, the future of the city in the event of even a minimal sea level rise is likely to be catastrophic.

7. Osaka, Japan

How’s this for a sobering statistic? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that a mere one meter rise in sea levels “would swallow about 90% of the sandy beaches in Japan and 100% of the sandy beaches in

8. Tampa/St. Pete, Florida, USA

Sea levels in Tampa/St. Pete have been rising at a clip of an inch a decade since the 1940s.

9. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, is another one of the world’s 10 most populated cities and one of its most low-lying.

10. Tokyo, Japan

At just 16 feet average above sea level, Tokyo rounds out the list of the world’s cities that are deemed most vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

The common feature of all 10 cities is their low-lying elevation. For more of the science behind this list, listen to the podcast of this segment here:

Community Connection:

Carly Blatt’s “How to Survive Travel Disasters: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina” isn’t just relevant for travelers; it includes some useful emergency planning tips for those of us who live in low-lying and catastrophe-prone areas, too.

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