Bye, Bye Alexandria: A 1-Meter Sea Rise is Certain

COP18, the Climate Change Conference held in Doha, Qatar, is a dismal failure, with the United States and Russia being the chief villains. The failure of the world’s leaders to have their hair on fire about the extreme challenges of the climate change we are producing with our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions has imperilled some countries more than others. Subsaharan Africa is in the firing line for the worst effects of climate change. But the low-lying areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh, and of the Egyptian Delta, are especially vulnerable to the one-meter sea level rise that the COP18 failure has ensured will occur within 80 years.

Here at there is a useful web tool that lets you see what the world looks like with a 1-meter (about three feet) sea level rise, which is now certain to occur by the end of this century. Actually, in past eons, a one-degree Centigrade increase in average temperature has produced a 10-20 meter rise in the seas. We are certainly going to exceed a 2-degree C. increase, so we could see a 20-40 meter increase, i.e. 60 to 120 feet. Obviously that would put a lot of our current land under water, but it will take a long time for that extreme rise to occur. The seas are very cold, very deep and very big, and circulate slowly, so that they will take thousands of years to warm. Once they do, human beings will be in big trouble. And even these enormous, icy bodies of water will warm up a bit by 2100, causing sea level rises of at least a meter, and maybe two. This is what Egypt would look like with a one-meter rise (and no, you can’t build sea dikes to deal with that kind of increase):

The city of Alexandria, celebrated in the poetry of Cavafy and the novels of Lawrence Durrell– with its 4.5 million population– has no more than 80 years to live. Note that Alexandria is bigger than Chicago (inside city limits), America’s third-largest city. The Delta city of Damanhour, where Muslim Brothers and their rivals clashed last week, leaving a young man dead? Under water. The ports of Damietta and Rosetta? Gone.

Alexandria is a key port for Egypt, with necessary infrastructure, through which 4/5s of the country’s imports are brought in.

A one-meter/ yard increase in sea level will inundate much of Egypt’s fertile Delta, displacing at least 10% of the country’s people and bringing salt water into the country’s breadbasket.

Among all the countries of the world, Egypt is among those most at risk from human-induced climate change. Given the Aswan Dam, they are not big polluters themselves.

If I were Egypt, I’d sue the US and China for the tort of making a tenth of the country or more sink beneath the waves.

8 Responses

  1. A technical note: the map at applies sea-level rises to all “sea”-coasts, without distinguishing, for example, the situation of the (landlocked) Caspian Sea, which it expects to swell. (An earlier version of the map did the same for the Aral Sea, which is drying up.)

    The question that is foremost in my mind is, WHEN will such places as Alexandria, Karachi, Dakka, and Shanghai become nom-viable? A couple of decades from now…?

  2. PS. The Dead Sea projections are even more eyebrow-raising–the West Bank can apparently expect to be flooded.

  3. “If I were Egypt, I’d sue the US and China for the tort of making a tenth of the country or more sink beneath the waves.”

    In what forum would you sue ?

  4. I have been assuming that storm/drought was the more immediate path of climate-change-destructiveness with concomitant crop loss (for both reasons). I don’t know much, just scared. Also I am worried about “tipping points” (strong feedbacks that promise massive and irreversible changes) such as the melting of arctic permafrosts — thereby releasing untold amounts of CO2 and CH4 (methane) which will make the greenhouse contributions of humankind (mostly the technological “west”) seem trivial in comparison.

    The refusal of the BIGs to admit the reality of climate change argues a severe lack of knowledge and a belief that there is lots of time left to respond so as to limit the damage.

    The most severe lack of knowledge is the belief that things could not be worse than the cautious scientific community has assured us. The scientists have been cautious out of ordinarily commendable reluctance to say more than they know for certain (e.g. with high probability). But what they don’t know “for sure” can be very bad indeed.

    • Re the behaviors of the BIGs: It seems obvious to me and others that what’s in play here is pure-and-simple “Apres moi le deluge,” “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone”-ism. link to

      The people who are living rich, fat, luxurious, “exceptional” lives via the skimming of wealth off the dumping of externalities (“Clean Coal?” Really?) and the capture of regulatory power, simply DO NOT CARE, and they know they don’t have to.

      For the purposes of their own power and pleasure, and maybe out of a systematic lack of empathy among other too-human-isms, they know they will get to live out their lives in immodest comfort, free of fear, spared all consequences.

      Water level rising? Hop on the private jet and buzz off to a more copacetic Eden (that you or a crony fortuitously happen to own.) Natives restless? That’s what their “security details” of willing club-wielders are for. Governments getting too uppity? Replace ‘em, or remind them of what happens to the too-greedy who are not post-national hyper-capitalists and already admitted to the Kleptocracy.

      And us little people don’t want to think bad thoughts about our fellow creatures, we give them the benefit of the doubt, or fear them, and wait for them to dispose of us and our lives.

    • And how many are named or will be re-named “Venice?”

      We ordinary critters have a knack for surviving and making the best of bad situations, though the ones who put us here never stop bleeding us.

  5. I played a bit with the map, and as I expected, it uses absolute contour values instead of smart ones, that’s why land locked lakes or even areas that are below sea level and with no inlet from the sea, appear blue. Even in this in accurate model, if you zoom in to Alexandria, you will find it will take at least 5m SLR for parts of the city to start being flooded.

    Its a shame that almost a decade on from the first serious research into climate change related SLR we still have completely in-accurate flood models that are being touted as the truth.

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