John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
If climate change caused the waters to rise by 500 feet, this is what major international cities might look like.
As many a teenage girl knows, the world that Suzanne Collins paints in The Hunger Games is a different, grim place. America in particular has become a spoiled strife-land due to war, fires, droughts and presumably other Biblical-level disasters. Perhaps most dramatically, the nature of the landscape has completely changed, with huge rises in sea levels taking great chunks out of entire continents.
Anybody who wants to know what that ocean-dominated planet would look like now can, thanks to a nifty simulator that depicts major increases (and decreases) in ocean heights. The "Speculative Sea Level Explorer" is the work of London programmer Benedikt Groß, who created it to see how climate change might alter the coast of the English county of Lincolnshire. Groß had such a blast with the project that he decided to expand its scope, as he writes here (note: I edited this for clarity):
While I was trying to figure out how much of Lincolnshire would remain, for instance, in the case of +6m sea level rise (btw, not that much), I realised that I was very drawn to simulate values beyond “normal” as predicted by Global Warming sea level projections. As I consider myself a non-morbid person, it is safe to rule the voyeurism for catastrophes out. It is the notion of imagining the implications of such transformed/speculative landscapes which intrigues me.
While there are plenty of such simulators at the local level – check out these ones for Boston and New York – the "Sea Level Explorer" takes it to the whole planet on a truly grandiose scale. Thus, Groß isn't interested in the possibly 6.6-foot rise in sea levels by 2100, the result of melting glaciers and the expansion of water in a warmer atmosphere. He wants to recreate the nearly 500 foot jump that he estimates was necessary to swamp The Hunger Games' North America, as well as the massive oceanic growth depicted in that marvel of modern cinema, Waterworld. (That would be a rise of at least 3,280 feet, he guesses.)
The programmer has made a number of simulations for major international cities like Los Angeles and Jerusalem, which you can find below. To generate these models, he's relying on digital-elevation data that NASA scientists collected during a 2000 radar-topography mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was later expanded by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In a neat touch, the downloadable program lets you not just flood cities but dry them out, as well – check out what Honolulu would look like somebody pulled out the ocean's bathtub, causing waters around Hawaii to recede by almost four miles.
Here's the key to the city simulations, which are all available on Vimeo: