10 Cities in Danger of Going Under

September 8, 2015 | Sarah Tse

Flooding in the Spanish city of Zaragoza.
Photo credit: Mother / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Flooding in the Spanish city of Zaragoza).

If visiting any of these cities is on your bucket list, we suggest booking those plane tickets as soon as possible.

Climate scientists have been warning for years that rising global temperatures are accelerating the melting of polar ice sheets. According to basic laws of physics, the water has to go somewhere, which explains the steady encroachment of shorelines into coastal areas over the past few decades.

Scientists previously believed that rising sea levels and other climate change related dangers could be managed as long as leaders worked towards keeping global warming within 2°C. But a new study that compared modern climate change with past periods of higher temperatures suggests a much bleaker reality: even a 2°C increase is enough to set the planet on a catastrophic course.

Sea levels have already risen 8 inches since the Industrial Revolution, and the latest projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict an additional 4 feet rise could happen as soon as the end of the century. This is bad news for cities located on coastlines, a position that posed a huge economic advantage in past centuries but today spells imminent disaster.

Not only are coastal cities endangered by rising sea levels, but many are also sinking in a process called land subsidence. As urban populations swell, groundwater pumping and construction of massive high-rises is putting additional strain on cities’ foundations. Living in the big city is a dream for many, but within a human lifetime this dream may turn into a nightmare unless these cities step up with policy and infrastructure changes.

Here are the 10 most iconic cities that may be swamped by the end of the century:

A flooded neighborhood in America’s Midwest. (Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.)
 Flood on a residential street in America

1.  Washington, DC

In addition to rising sea levels, the US capital is further threatened by its geological history; during the last ice age, a giant ice sheet weighed down a region north of the Chesapeake, which caused the surface to the south to bulge up. This “forebulge” is now sinking again, which could cause the city to sink an extra 6 inches over the next century.


2.  Bangkok

Most of the city is under 5 feet above sea level, and is already sinking at about an inch per year. Officials are considering relocating the capital, as its current position will be completely submerged by 2100.


3.  Miami

Since 1996, sea levels around the Miami coast have risen 3.7 inches, and this rate is increasing. The drinking water will also become a bit more briny, as saltwater intrudes into the city’s aquifers.


4.  Venice

Venetians are amazingly cavalier about the high tides that regularly invade their homes, but they’ve taken action against the growing danger posed by the rising Adriatic—the Mose flood barrier project adds gated foundations to the bed of the Venetian lagoon, which will help control flooding.


5.  New York City

The entire Lower West Side will be completely inundated, and the rest of the metropolis will face debilitating hurricanes and tropical storms.


6.  Jakarta

Some of the most heavily populated areas in Indonesia’s largest city have sunk as much as 6 feet, and if deep groundwater extraction continues at its current pace, the city will see another 16 to 19 feet subsidence.


7.  Anywhere in the Maldives

Most of the atolls making up this country are only 5 feet above sea level, which means all those beautiful beaches and resorts will soon be submerged in the Indian Ocean.


The flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. (Credit:
 New Orleans from the air after hurricane Katrina. (credit:

8.  New Orleans

Much of the city already lies 10 feet beneath sea level, and it continues to sink into its soft, muddy foundation.


9.  Shanghai

The city’s sinking has slowed to about half an inch per year now that the government more tightly controls groundwater pumping. Shanghai is taking additional measures to protect its wetlands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


10.  Lagos

The largest city in Nigeria unfortunately sits on the edge of the Gulf of Guinea, which is expected to rise up to 6 feet by the end of the century.


If you’re worried about your own city, check out this map to see the impacts of a 2°C warming on any city in the US.

Hot Topics

Facebook comments