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How Cambridgeshire would be affected by a 3-degree rise in sea temperature according to work by Climate Central - http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/
How Cambridgeshire would be affected by a 3-degree rise in sea temperature according to work by Climate Central - http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/

Climatologist Professor John Turner of British Antarctic Survey explains what new climate change data tells us

The entire shape of the coastline on the East of England would become unrecognisable if global temperatures rise by 3 degrees above their pre-industrial levels, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) report.

The Paris climate agreement, which is now being implemented and is being discussed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn until November 17, has pledged to ensure that the Earth’s climate doesn’t rise more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Such a prospect now looks unlikely, according to Prof John Turner, a climatologist at British Antarctic Survey on Madingley Road.

“We’re on an increase of 1.1 degrees since the pre-industrial era,” Prof Turner said. “We only started affecting the climate system in the mid-19th century. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is 400 parts per million against 280ppm in pre-industrial times. There’s a natural variability about the climate but we are now putting a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” The maximum safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350ppm.

Underwater view of the sea surface: a rise in sea levels is expected if - but probably when - the temperature of the earth rises to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Underwater view of the sea surface: a rise in sea levels is expected if - but probably when - the temperature of the earth rises to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“The Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise to 2 degrees, and preferably 1.5 degrees, but with no hint of the levelling off of greenhouse gases that doesn’t seem possible,” said Prof Turner.

“There’s a 3mm rise in sea levels every year which is one of the biggest concerns. The temperature rises as the oceans expand, and we don’t know how much ice is going to come out of the Antarctic. The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 30million cubic kilometres of ice, so even if a tiny fraction melts we could get a one metre sea level rise by the end of the century. We have a fair understanding of climate change now – a two-metre rise is unlikely, one metre is more likely.”

The Unep report says that, following a three degree rise, chunks of Florida, Manhattan, Lincolnshire, Rio de Janeiro and the deltas of the Nile, Amazon, Mekong and Ganges would be under water.

“As a developed country we can establish coastal defences,” Prof Turner said. “We have coastal defences in East Anglia, and there’s talk of another Thames Barrier, but how high do you build that?”

The World Meterological Organisation’s just-published annual report doesn’t offer much solace.

The report from the Geneva-based organisation states that 2017 is likely to be one of the hottest three years on record, “with many high-impact events including catastrophic hurricanes and floods, debilitating heatwaves and drought”. However, “climate change is never simple”, Prof Turner says.

“Sea ice across the Arctic has been decreasing in the last 30 or 40 years, but sea ice in the Antarctic has been holding steady.”

It should be noted that until the satellite era began 40 years ago sea ice data was unavailable.

Prof Turner, however, remains optimistic that human nature can find a way to mitigate against the potential calamities.

“I’m always surprised at how efficient cars are,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “The positive thing is we’ve got lots of cycleways, and Park & Ride – it’s fantastic, but maybe I would say that as I qualify for a bus pass.”



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