Written by Estella Zhong and edited by Racia Yoong
As greenhouse gases continue to be released into our atmosphere and global temperatures continue to rise, massive and devastating changes are also happening at some of our largest geographical features. At and near our poles, glaciers and entire ice sheets are melting, causing immense volumes of water to be discharged into our oceans.
Antarctica and Greenland are our key areas of concern because they are also the main contributors to sea-level rise globally. These two alone make up 99% of the entire planet’s freshwater ice.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center estimated that if the Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt completely, global sea-levels would rise by a whopping 60 meters. The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is already experiencing unprecedented rates of melt (the highest in 12,000 years!), will cause an additional 6-meter rise.
Combining melting ice sheets with thermal expansion (water expands when it heats up) and land constraints to water storage due to rapid urbanization, our sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates.
“Rising sea levels” a buzzword or buzzkill?
“Rising sea levels” is becoming a buzzword we hear about more frequently, especially as we’re entering into an era of dialogue around climate change. But how much do we really know about “rising sea levels”? And how is it directly affecting humanity?
These are a few examples that demonstrate how recent climate impact is exacerbated by rising sea levels.
1. Storm surges
In recent years, storm surges have become catastrophic, influenced by extreme weather changes, resulting in storm patterns that have caused even more intense, prolonged, and destructive typhoons and hurricanes. Storm urges typically occur during tropical cyclones, and often lead to dire mass flood damages and even loss of lives.
Flooding is another pressing issue related to sea level rise. As sea levels increase, many coastal and low-lying areas are at risk of becoming submerged. Millions of people will be forced to migrate to safer, drier grounds and rebuild their homes again. The number of people at risk will increase exponentially daily.
The inundation of large swaths of land all over the world also threatens our food and water sources as aquifers are at risk of contamination and agricultural land for flooding. Our wildlife’s habitats will also be eroded or washed away, reducing the number of biological niches available tremendously – even potentially leading to the extinction of species that are unable to adapt to their new environments.
Contrary to popular belief, Singapore is especially vulnerable
Global sea levels continue to rise steadily together with warming temperatures today. And Singapore is not spared.
Have you stopped to realise how much hotter it has gotten in Singapore lately? If you have, that is because Singapore is heating up at twice the rate as compared to the rest of the world – at 0.23 degrees C per decade!
That number may not look like much, but because warming temperatures are directly linked to sea level rise, Singapore has already experienced a rate of sea level rise at 3.2 mm per year. This number will continue to grow exponentially, with a projected increase of 20 to 30 cm in the next few decades.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, Singapore is especially vulnerable to sea level rises because of our geographical positioning at the equatorial tropics. Singapore is surrounded by water on all corners and the risk of inland flooding, land erosion, and storm surges will become more common and amplified with time if nothing is done to mitigate these risks.
Apart from Singapore, coastlines along South Louisiana in America are being submerged at a rate of an entire football field an hour. This was the result of rapid sea level rise and anthropogenic decisions like levee building and oil exploration. Entire cities, especially low-lying, coastal regions (Singapore alike) are at risk of being washed away and going downunder.
A satellite comparison of the South Louisiana Coast Submersion between 1932 and 2011 (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
(An animated stimulation of the past, current, and projected land loss in Louisiana between 1932 to 2050)
Closer to home, the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok, is estimated to be 70% inundated by 2080. Other cities like Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh both rank amongst the top 5 fastest-sinking cities in the world, the former, Jakarta projected to be 95% submerged by 2050. The threat of sea level rise has gotten so bad for Jakarta that Indonesia has decided to shift its capital city from Jakarta to Borneo.
Singapore’s Future Plans for Climate Change
As you can already tell, there is no escaping the impacts of climate change and global warming. Singapore has to act fast, along with the rest of the world, to assign country leaders with the foresight and steadfastness to implement future plans to mitigate and alleviate these impacts.
Plans include building new infrastructure like sea walls, increasing the area of reclaimed land, and installing new architecture like raised buildings targeted towards a future with potentially higher sea levels. Water flow underground has also been optimized to maximize storage that can potentially cope with excess water influx, minimising if not preventing more severe floods from occurring.
We cannot afford to “slack”
However, much of what we are working towards is still predominantly reactive in nature rather than having mitigating or adaptive measures.
That begs me to wonder if we should be doing more in preventive measures. Surely, there is more that we can still do to slow or significantly reduce the extent of sea level rise as a nation. What more can Singapore do to play our part politically in the Paris Agreement? What needs to be done to ensure that temperature rise in Singapore and our Southeast Asia counterparts is sustained below the 2 degrees C rise?