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How rising sea levels could change the shape of East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 12:33 01 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:35 01 December 2015

How East Anglia might look if sea levels continue to rise based on 2C warming. Copyright 2015 Climate Change Central

How East Anglia might look if sea levels continue to rise based on 2C warming. Copyright 2015 Climate Change Central

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King’s Lynn could be totally submerged and abandoned, and Downham Market a seaside town on Norfolk’s new west coast by the end of the century.

Climate campaigners in London, as world leaders gather in Paris for the start of crucial talks on climate change. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Climate campaigners in London, as world leaders gather in Paris for the start of crucial talks on climate change. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Great Yarmouth will be just a memory, and those Suffolk honeypots of Southwold and Aldeburgh well on the way to becoming offshore islands. Much of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire will be lost to the waves, with Ely once again an island.

Everywhere that suffered in the notorious floods of 1953 will be under water again – permanently this time. The risk of another such flood will hang over places now thought safely far from the sea.

It may sound like a Hollywood version of Apocalypse East Anglia, but in fact it’s a vision of the not-so-far future suggested by a serious, well resourced and highly credible American research team.

These images show how rising sea levels could change the shape of our coastline – within our children’s lifetimes, if not our own – unless drastic action is taken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases.

The maps, produced by Climate Central, show how East Anglia will look beyond 2100 if the world warms by just 2ºC. And that’s not a worst-case scenario – it’s the target.

With the United Nations climate change conference currently taking place in Paris, Steve Smedley of the Eastern Green Party has been examining the latest scientific predictions.

And he says: “Recent studies suggest that carbon emissions produced now could have a cumulative effect on temperatures far beyond what is currently thought. The effect would be to lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds current projections.”

All that water comes, of course, from the melting polar ice-caps – melting already at an alarming and accelerating rate. It’s a heck of a lot of water.

Dr Smedley adds: “The generally accepted increase in sea level due to climate change by the year 2100 is between half a metre and a metre. But these new studies show that even if carbon emissions were kept low enough to meet the internationally agreed 2ºC of global warming, the cumulative effect of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere could see sea levels continue to rise beyond 2100 by up to 4.5 metres.

“This would have catastrophic consequences for communities on the east coast.”

What is not clear is the time-scale for the sea to reach the levels shown. Scientists are rightly wary of making dogmatic predictions that could turn out to be exaggerated. Or under-stated.

But it is clear that the choices we make now will have far-reaching consequences for centuries to come.

Climate Central, whose recent research was published by the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, says: “The sea level rise we map may take centuries to play out, but we set it in motion today.”

For a detailed view of how various global warming scenarios will affect sea levels anywhere in the world, see sealevel.climatecentral.org

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