Space laser shows 410m people will live in areas hit by rising sea levels by 2100

·2-min read
Space laser shows 410m people will live in areas hit by rising sea levels by 2100
Concrete blocks are placed along the shoreline to try and prevent further coastal erosion, on December 17, 2019 in Mahibadhoo, Maldives.  (Getty Images)
Concrete blocks are placed along the shoreline to try and prevent further coastal erosion, on December 17, 2019 in Mahibadhoo, Maldives. (Getty Images)

A space laser shows that 410m people will live in low-lying areas impacted by devastating sea level rises by 2100, scientists say.

Researchers used a NASAsatellite to map the elevation of the Earth’s surface that sits just two meters above sea level and is vulnerable to the climate crisis.

The scientists then combined population data with the mapping and determined that currently 267m people live in at-risk areas, according to the report in Nature Communications.

And they say that their 2100 calculation, which assumes a sea level rise of one meter, is a conservative one.

The research states that countries such as Banglasdesh and Indonesia are among the most vulnerable, but that areas of the US and Europe will also be impacted.

“We strongly believe that if the world is going to be able to deal with sea level rise and to conserve nature in coastal zones – that’s an important aspect – elevation must be known,” says study lead author Dr Aljosja Hooijer, a flood risk expert at the National University of Singapore and Dutch research institute Deltares.

The research states that 72 per cent of the at-risk population live in tropical zones, with low-lying Asia accounting for 59 per cent.

“It’s a huge problem for the developed countries – for Europe and for the States,” added Dr Hooijer.

“But if you look at the road map, who are the people who are going to suffer most, and probably the soonest? Those are poor people, mostly that live in underdeveloped zones.

“It’s not given that much attention, that this is really the hot spot. And we were surprised by the numbers ourselves.”

Researchers used NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite, which uses the same lidar technology developed for self-driving cars to target an object with lasers and measures the time for reflected light to return.

That then generates accurate 3D information about the Earth’s surface.

Researchers had previously used satellite radar to map elevations but found it was less accurate.

“The problem with radar is that it can’t penetrate vegetation – only a bit,” added Dr Hooijer.

“It gets stuck somewhere between the canopy and the soil surface, and the elevation measure that you get is somewhere in between.”

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