Why are rising sea levels so dangerous?

New study finds that rising tides could displace hundreds of millions of people

 An enormous iceberg breaking off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory
(Image credit: TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty )

Rising sea levels could have “profound consequences” for the planet, scientists have warned.

It has long been believed that the world's oceans would rise by a maximum of just under a metre by the year 2100. However, a new study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences forecasts that the real level may be around double that figure, due to accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

The latest research, carried out by a team of international climate academics, says such a scenario could lead to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people. “To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Jonathan Bamber, one of the authors of the study.

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“That is about 200 times smaller than the number of people who would be displaced in a 2m sea-level rise.”

The report says the world would lose an area of land equal to 1.79m square kilometres - equivalent to the size of Libya - with much of the erasure affecting important food growing areas.

The Daily Mail says the scenario would “wipe out over a million square miles of farming and other food producing lands,” while Metro says that the outcome of the predicted changes would be “catastrophic”.

Major cities, including London, New York and Shanghai would be under threat and huge areas of Bangladesh would become simply uninhabitable.

The researchers believe that if emissions continue on the current path then the world's seas could rise as much as 238cm by 2100. Although this would be a worst-case environmental scenarios, they believe it is a prospect worth taking seriously.

Acknowledging the chances of this are around 5%, Bamber said: “If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn't go near it.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey - I think that's a serious risk.”

The study suggests that there is still time to avoid this catastrophe, but only if there are major cuts in emissions across the planet.

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