Research & Conservation

What’s in two meters?

Two is unfortunately not the magic number, while three would be even more tragic.

Scientists have now sent a stern warning that sea-levels will keep rising, and at this rate the rise will hit two meters by the year 2100. Sure you might think it seems far away, but it is only 81 years. Your children will certainly be around, and you can still help them enjoy this wonderful world.

The UN climate panel, or the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have now indicated that in less than eight decades our planet will face its biggest problem and our generation will be heavily effected. This rise will have a “profound effect on humanity” with “unimaginable” threats to society.

Beware: regular floods

Why does this occur?

Sea level changes occur due to two main reasons: Melting and changing ice sheets, and the continual warming of the world’s seas, as when water heats it expands and takes more space.

Researches now employ a tactic called Ice Mapping, where they study the behaviour of our ice sheets and glaciers, which are melting at a far greater rate. As we continue to warm up our climate, ice continues to melt, and since global warming is now happening at a much faster rate than ever, yes you’ve guessed it, the ice is melting faster too. As the ice blocks melt, they return in a liquid state. As the proverbial cup fills up and up, the sea levels rise, drowning different areas of the world.

One other huge concerns of sea level changes: storm surges. As we have more higher sea levels, storms will push further inland, so even if you do not live on coastal areas, you will be affected by the surge, with heavy flooding a huge concern.

Now when you look at two meters at a glance you might shrug and feel it’s only a small amount in the context of say, for example, your living room or house.

However the truth is that a two meter rise of the sea level will be catastrophic for life, including your own personal safety. Villages will be wiped out, cities will crumble and drown, and our coves, beaches, bays, shorelines and all the species that have made it a home will vanish.

A deteriorating road…

The effect in numbers:

A terrible two-meter rise will essentially swallow up to 1.79 million square kilometers of land, which will in turn displace over 187 million people across the globe. It is an unthinkable amount,  almost half of the current population of the United States. Of course as is the unfortunate reality of the world, poorer regions will be hit hardest and countries like Indonesia, and all the islands in Oceania will take direct hits.

The island of Tuvalu is already struggling and the Guardian released a dramatic photo collection of what the islanders are having to deal with on a daily basis.

A tale of two cities

Just to give you a quick illustration: have you ever been to Venice or Amsterdam? These two European cities have been fighting the battle since they were built and inhabited. The Netherlands, or Pays-Bas, in French, is called so in French as it means low-lands. They sit an average of five meters below sea level. Dutch citizens have managed to thrive there due to engineering marvels, such as Rotterdam’s water arch and Amsterdam’s older gate. Originally, dykes were cut out to form the city’s famous canals, and these are still in place today.

Amsterdam’s streets are her canals, and this city has fought sea level rises since its creation.

Venice was literally sinking from the moment it was built. Most buildings standing today are indeed standing on wooden poles, and the famed square of San Marco floods often. Last October, 75% of the city was submerged.

Adding a further two meters on top of that would put major stress on the city and most parts would indeed drown.

Cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Venice can cope with the depth, however many developing nations will suffer more due to lack of investments and building technologies. Islands near the Philippines will be struck and the capital city of Manila, home to 1.78 million people will vanish entirely.

A Venitian boy watches as floods damage Venice’s iconic gondolas.

How will Malta be affected?

Does that two meter figure now make you sweat? Can you imagine the damage done to the likes of our cities which touch the coast line? Can you picture the Maltese Islands two meters deeper into the sea? Think of areas like Ghadira, Sliema, St Julian’s, Senglea’s docks, Armier and so on…

Our Grand Harbour will be massive, and further rises will see it spread to the Marsa Race Track while the Mellieha Holiday Center would almost be cut off into its own peninsula. Think of all our coastal towns, Xemxija, Xlendi in Gozo, Bahar Ic Caghaq and begin to wonder… how will climate change affect you?

Yes, two meters is too many.

Two meters can kill off entire species

A huge amount of the species we study and host here at the Malta National Aquarium would suffer immensely. Think of the brilliant mudskipper, a species we studied two blog posts ago. All the crustaceans, amphibians and even mollusks would risk extinction, and the species will have a very short amount of time to react and adapt.

Coral, another unfortunate victim, is also something we study closely in this blog. Coral would suffer as most of it would become too deep to thrive from the sun’s energy, and all the species that have made it a home will need to migrate which is always a risk.

When species are forced out of their intended home, huge risks can occur as they may face unfamiliar predators, and new bacteria and pollution which can wipe entire species out.

Alternatively they may also become invasive species, which puts a whole new stress on current eco systems in their new home. We had discussed alien species last year, so brush up on your knowledge here.

Our precious sea turtles will also take a massive hit as the worlds beaches would simply submerge. Turtles rely on beaches to lay their eggs, so if they lose their favored spots, the species will face massive declines. The trouble here is that a female turtle will always return to her very own birthplace to lay her eggs, so cutting off that place may risk her whole brood.

The effects of global warming are simply too heavy to ignore, and two meters is a huge catastrophe.

The critically endangered Polar Bear does not stand a chance