Rise in sea level

Global eustatic sea level is forecast to rise by 13-94 cm by 2100 due to climate change (3). In Europe, the regions vulnerable to increased flooding include areas already close to or below mean sea level. Vulnerable regions include:

• the coastline of the Netherlands

• the North Sea coast of Germany

• the Po River delta in Italy

Areas with low intertidal variation are also more vulnerable to a rise in sea level. Such areas include the coastal zones of the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea/Atlantic coast. Many of Europe's largest cities are built on estuaries and lagoons (for example, Hamburg, London, St Petersburg, Salonica and Venice) and are therefore vulnerable to a rise in sea level (49).

Most low-lying areas in Europe are already protected from coastal flooding, and it is anticipated that countries will maintain and strengthen coastal defences, as it has been shown to be cost-effective to do so. However, changes in the nature and frequency of storm surges, especially in the North Sea, are likely to be of considerable importance for many low-lying coastal areas (8).

Nicholls & Mimura (50) have evaluated the policy implications of sea-level rise. The slow but steady degradation of the coastal fringe in much of Europe has gone largely unnoticed until recently. This trend is likely to continue and accelerate with a rise in the sea level. Some studies have estimated that future populations are at risk of flooding under the projected rise in sea level. Table 1 illustrates some assessments for Germany, the Netherlands and Poland.

The collapse and loss of most of the land-based ice of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in a short time would entail a much more rapid rise in sea level than is currently forecast. Complete disintegration would raise sea levels by 4-6 metres (51). In addition to the possibility of rapid climate change, the potentially catastrophic risks of a rise in sea level must be considered.

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