Climate change might seem like a far off concern, but for anyone living on the coast, humans' impact on the world is all too present. What future coastlines will look like is directly related to global warming, which is expected to lead to rising sea levels. As people continue to release high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the global temperature rises, ice caps melt faster, and the ocean levels creep ever upwards.
How will rising oceans impact the world? There's no way to know for certain, but maps showing rising ocean levels give a grim approximation of what the coastlines of the future could look like. Scientists estimate that the sea level rise could be anywhere from three to six feet within the next century. Even the lower end of this prediction would cause significant damage to coastal populations all over the world.
While an eventual rise may be inevitable at this point, how high the oceans swell is in large part dependent on people's activities. The more society can slow this rise, the better everyone can prepare for the outcome.
This map depicts a uniform sea level rise of approximately 20 feet across the globe, as seen in red. In this case, certain areas would be more affected than others. Parts of the east coast of the United States, for instance, would be at risk for a sea level rise of three to four times the national average. New York City would be almost completely flooded, and Hampton Roads, VA, and Charleston, SC, would be submerged. Most of Florida, including Miami and Jacksonville, would be wiped out as well.
Ocean levels are eventually expected to rise by at least 20 feet, based on Earth's rising temperature. That estimate comes from evidence of past periods of warmth, millions of years ago, in which the global sea level was over 20 feet higher. Current climate negotiations aim to cap global warming at a two degree rise in temperature, but that could still lead to a massive rise in ocean levels.
This map pinpoints the 20 largest cities across the globe that are at risk from rising sea levels. The purple dots mark the top 20 cities in terms of population, including New York City, Mumbai, and Shanghai.
The coastal cities included on the map would even be impacted by a relatively minor sea level rise of one-and-half feet, which is considered likely by 2100.
Determining just how much ocean levels will rise in the future isn't a perfect science. It's dependent on many factors, including human activity and carbon emissions. But short of drastic changes, scientists estimate sea levels will rise between three to six feet within the next century.
These maps show the Netherlands currently, and the Netherlands with just a three-foot sea level rise. Based on this projection, a significant loss of land is likely by 2100. Half or more of the coastal country's territory could end up under water.
If sea levels rise just three feet in the next century - a fairly moderate estimate - millions of Americans would be at risk of displacement. This video maps the populations affected in each coastal state. Over one million people would be at risk in Florida alone, where the majority of the counties could flood.