Underwater metropolis planned as seas rise

New Atlantis: The base of the $26 billion Ocean Spiral city would lie 2.5 miles down on the sea floor.

Is the best response to climate change to invent new ways of living? The Japanese Shimizu Corporation plans to build a giant underwater metropolis powered by energy from the seabed.

London and New York are partly submerged in water. Across the world, transport systems, drinking water supplies and internet infrastructure are collapsing. Some 187 million climate migrants are displaced.

This could be planet Earth in 2100, according to a new report from the University of Bristol. A team of 22 scientists predicts that sea levels could rise by two metres by the end of the century, which is almost twice as much as the UN’s previous report foresaw in 2013.

Why the re-think? New satellite measures show ice is melting faster than models predicted. Scientists now fear that huge ice cliffs in Antarctica could buckle under their own weight as the ice sheets that support them vanish.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years, we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable,” said Professor Jonathan Bamber.

This scenario proposes that unchecked carbon emissions could cause 5C global warming by 2100. Even if we keep global warming to 2C in line with the Paris agreement, at least 570 cities will be exposed to rising seas and storm surges by 2050.

Delta cities face a grave outlook. Jakarta is sinking under its own weight as its 9.6 million people extract water from the ground. The Indonesian city has sunk 2.5 metres in less than 10 years as sea levels have risen.

Rotterdam in the Netherlands is 90% below sea level. Yet, thanks to innovative flood defences (like the Maeslant Barrier), scientists say it is one of the most climate-proof cities in the world.

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb says that Rotterdam residents see climate crisis as “as an opportunity to make the city more resilient, more attractive and economically stronger”.

Meanwhile, “sponge cities” in China, including Shanghai, are ensuring that 80% of urban land can absorb or reuse 70% of storm-water. In the Maldives, authorities want to build tall, new islands to withstand rising seas.

Others are turning their gaze beneath the surface.

Japan’s Shimizu Corporation wants to house 5,000 people in a deep-sea city called Ocean Spiral by 2030. The settlement would use the temperature differences in deep and shallow water to generate power. Drinking water would come from desalination, and food from underwater farms.

Choppy waters?

Can we overcome rising sea levels? Rotterdam is a glowing example of how a city can adapt, and overcome climate threats. When our survival is threatened, there is no ceiling to human ingenuity.

But is it realistic to think that every community will have the money and means to protect themselves? Millions could still die. Isn’t it naive to rely on future innovations to sort this out? Our urgent focus must be on cutting emissions to limit global warming today.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to live in an underwater city?
  2. Are humans naturally more pessimistic or optimistic about the future?

Activities

  1. Design your own underwater city. Think about not just what humans would need to survive, but what we would need to stay entertained and happy.
  2. Write short story, no more than two sides of A4, set in the far future when sea levels have risen dramatically. Has humanity adapted? Is it a futuristic utopia or a post-apocalyptic nightmare?

Some People Say...

“Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing.”

Benjamin H Strauss, climate scientist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A report led by the University of Bristol has warned coastal cities to prepare for sea rises of two metres by the end of the century. The scientists think there is a one-in-20 chance of this situation becoming reality, but even half of this rise would cause dramatic flooding, affecting 800 million people.
What do we not know?
How much exactly sea levels will rise. Since the last UN report in 2013, new science has revealed that sea levels can be far more erratic and hard to predict than previously thought. Professor Bamber says the outlook is more likely to be worse than predicted by the UN.

Word Watch

Displaced
A person who is forced to leave their home, especially because of war or natural disaster.
Paris
A commitment by more than 200 countries to take measures to keep global warming below 2C. In 2017, the USA announced that it would pull out of the agreement.
Delta
Coastal cities that lie where rivers run to the sea. Historically, these cites were hubs of civilisation due to their access to the sea and fertile farmland.
Extract water
Jakarta is based on swampland. As water underground is pumped out, the surface of the city moves and sinks.
Maeslant Barrier
A huge, storm-surge barrier, the size of two Eiffel towers on its side, that automatically closes when Rotterdam is under threat from flooding.
Desalination
Technology which removes the salt from seawater to make it drinkable.

Subjects

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