A new study published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change estimates that at its worst, sea level rise attributed to the melting of Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers may displace up to 187 million people within the next 100 years.
An assessment of expert opinion published Sunday finds that most leading climate scientists are divided on how rapidly the planet’s glaciers and ice caps will deteriorate, leading to a wide divergence of opinion on how much that melting will contribute to sea levels between present day and 2100.
After charting detailed responses from 26 leading experts, researchers came back with a median estimate of projected sea level rise at just 29 centimeters. The worst estimate is 84 centimeters.
The results are significantly worse than the last projection (PDF) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, which suggested that at best the world would see 18 centimeters of sea level rise, and at worst 59 centimeters.
While neither measurement sounds like much taken out of context, the potential for destruction becomes clear when visualized using tools like Climate Central’s Surging Seas map, which simulates how far inland water would travel if sea levels rise according to recent scientific predictions.
If the worst-case-scenario from Nature Climate Change‘s latest study were to become reality, a significant portion of Hoboken, New Jersey would become an island, while most of New York harbor would be completely flooded. Much of New Orleans would be underwater as well, along with parts of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles. Houston would be similarly devastated, as would the geography of south Florida — just to name a few.
That’s just in the United States. Around the world, damages from once-in-a-century storms causing historic flooding every few years or less would devastate poorer societies, causing mass migrations away from coastal areas. That raises the potential for conflicts over resources, something the U.S. Director of national intelligence has warned is highly likely in the next century.
Scientists writing in Nature Climate Change warned that there was a 1 in 20 chance of the worst-case-scenario coming true, but that chance increases along with the rate of melting. If it does, roughly 187 million people world wide will likely be forced from their homes due to flooding: a catastrophic scenario, to say the least.
Photo: Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com.