Flood risks: is London in danger?

Flood, climate change, London Flood Barrier, sea level rising

Thames Barrier: A series of river gates, it was built in the 1970s to protect vulnerable London from storm surges. In 1990, the Thames Barrier closed once or twice a year on average, while in 2003 it closed 14 times. It is expected to be useful only for another 50 years because of sea level rise.

Melting ice from the poles could make sea levels rise by up to three feet by the end of the century, scientists claim. 

The Thames Barrier would struggle to cope with predicted storm surges, experts say, leaving London at risk of ‘great floods’.

London’s ‘at risk’ list includes the Houses of Parliament, Canary Wharf, 86 railway and Tube stations, 16 hospitals and over half a million homes. And the iconic silver pods of the Thames Barrier can’t keep rising tides at bay forever.

They claim there is a one in 20 chance that ocean levels around the British coast could be around a meter higher by 2100 as a result of climate change.

If such rises were to take place, London’s current sea defences would struggle to cope, with the capital at risk of flooding once a decade.

A decision about building a new barrier is expected to be made in 2050. The present one is widely seen as a beacon of farsighted public investment – one it would be wise to learn from.

Risk models

  • Using a model of ‘medium’ climate change, they expect ice melt will contribute between 3.5cm (1.4 in) and 36.8cm (14in) to average global sea levels by 2100
  • Warming temperatures also cause the sea to expand, in effect doubling the increase from ice melt
  • Once this is taken into account, alongside storm surges and weather patterns, the team say the ‘best guess’ for overall rise in sea levels globally could be from 6cm (2.4in) up to 69cm (27in)

Catastrophic effects

Floods like brought by Hurricane Sandy could begin to devastate New York City every two years as sea levels rise by five feet by the year 2100, according to the startling new predictions released by climate scientists.

The sea level projections mean that much smaller floods will produce more catastrophic effects on the city. New York was proven to be extremely vulnerable by the 11-foot storm surge that battered the city October 2013.

The new data could reignite debate over whether the city should construct a $17billion system of flood barriers and spend another $12billion shoring up outlying areas of the city like the Rockaway Peninsula.

What can we learn from NY?

Clearly the risk of coastal flooding is more at the center of the collective consciousness and some important reforms have taken place — sensible steps such as

  • a more precise hurricane evacuation plan
  • installing backup generators at housing projects
  • raising the electrical systems at hospitals

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