UK flooding in pictures: How British landmarks will look after sea levels rise

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Climate change: Map shows areas to be ‘below sea level’ in 2100

Parts of the UK were hit hard by flooding last weekend as heavy rainfall hit. Streets in Greater Manchester were flooded after the River Mersey burst its banks. Bolton recorded 31.6mm of rain in just 24 hours — one of the top 10 wettest days of the last decade. Heavy rain also struck Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

While there is natural variability in local rainfall patterns, climate change can directly affect the intensity and frequency of precipitation.

Warmer oceans increase the amount of water that evaporates into the air, which condenses into precipitation and leads to heavier rain or snow when cold enough.

More downpours inevitably lead to increased flood risk, as does rising sea levels. Flooding already poses a serious issue to coastal communities and those in low-lying areas near rivers, and is only expected to get worse as sea levels increase.

Climate Central analyses and reports on climate science, and has produced a map on the areas that will be affected by rising sea levels in the coming years — including a number of notable British landmarks.

They compare and contrast two images of projected future sea levels after multiple centuries — a 1.5℃ temperature rise across the world, if we sharply cut carbon pollution and meet the target set at the 2015 Paris Agreement, or 3℃ if we continue on our current carbon path.

READ MORE: 23 Football stadiums at risk of flooding in 30 years – is your team’s?

River Mersey flooding

The River Mersey burst its banks last weekend. (Image: Anthony Moss)

Buckingham Palace at present day sea level.

Buckingham Palace at present day sea level. (Image: Climate Central)

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace after 1.5C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace after 3C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Much of central and east London would be below the tideline after 1.5℃ including the O2 Arena, The Shard and much of the Olympic Park.

Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium would be below the tideline, as would Fulham’s Craven Cottage on the banks of the River Thames.

Much of St James’ Park would be below the tideline at 1.5℃, while Buckingham Palace’s grounds would be too at 3℃ .

Climate Central estimated most of the steps at the Victoria Memorial, just in front of the Palace, would be engulfed in water.

St Paul’s Cathedral fares a little better, with seemingly no disruption at 1.5℃, but much of the surrounding streets would be affected in the worst-case scenario.

Tower of London

The Tower of London at present day sea level. (Image: Climate Central)

Tower of London after 1.5C of global warming.

The Tower of London after 1.5C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Tower of London on our current climate path.

Tower of London on our current climate path. (Image: Climate Central)

Little over a mile away at the Tower of London, however, it is a different story. Climate Central estimated that its walls would protect it in the event of a 1.5℃ warming, but not at 3℃.

A degree of caution should be applied over these images, however.

The Thames Barrier is the second largest flood defence barrier in the world, and London’s landmarks would be submerged by flood water without it.

A report published by The Greater London Authority in 2002 said: “Without the Thames Barrier, London’s flood defence walls… would have to be as high as the Victorian street lamps — effectively depriving Londoners of their river.”

Met Office data estimates that London’s sea levels will rise between 29cm and 70cm by 2100.

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Cardiff's Millennium Centre

Cardiff’s Millennium Centre at present. (Image: Climate Central)

Cardiff's Millennium Centre

Cardiff’s Millennium Centre at 1.5C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Cardiff's Millennium Centre

Cardiff’s Millennium Centre after 3C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Eventual sea rise could be much, much higher beyond 2100 as the oceans are storing so much heat, which means sea levels will continue to rise for centuries yet.

The Environment Agency has outlined a range of options to protect London in the future.

These include maintaining and the eventual upgrade of the Thames Barrier, converting the existing barrier to include locks capable of opening and closing, or funding a new barrier in either Tilbury in Essex or Long Reach in Kent.

Elsewhere in the UK, the Climate Central images suggest Cardiff’s Millennium Centre and the Welsh Senedd are at risk in the event of 3℃ of global warming.

At 1.5℃, however, much of Cardiff city centre and some of the surrounding areas will be below the tideline.

Glasgow's SEC Centre

Glasgow’s SEC Centre today. (Image: Climate Central)

Glasgow's SEC Centre

Glasgow’s SEC Centre at 1.5C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

Glasgow's SEC Centre

Glasgow’s SEC Centre at 3C of global warming. (Image: Climate Central)

In Glasgow, the SEC Centre would be below the tideline in either climate scenario.

For the most part, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be less at risk from rising sea levels due to its raggy landscape, though there are some exceptions to this rule.

Back in England, however, it is not such good news. Parts of the east coast, notably Hull and the Humber estuary, are already prone to flooding.

Various sections of the southeast are also prone to flooding, which may be exacerbated by the fact parts of southern England are actually sinking into the ground.

The Earth’s crust responds to weight being added, or removed, by sinking or rising. The process of returning to previous levels is called isostatic rebound.

Thousands of years ago, when Scandinavia, Scotland and some of England were submerged under more than 1,000 feet of ice, southern England was not.

As a result, parts of southern England and the southern Baltic are now sinking into the ground very slowly.

While sea level rise is inevitable now, it can be controlled to an extent.

Climate and energy choices made across the world in the coming years and decades will have a sizable impact on this, and the timing of such a rise is also difficult to predict.

These sea levels may take hundreds of years to be fully realised, especially at the upper end of the scale.



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