Antarctic Ice Shelf
Photograph by Maria Stenzel
Higher, warmer seas undermine the massive ice shelves that jut out from the Antarctic continent, eroding them from beneath. A series of spectacular ice shelf collapses in recent decades have aggravated sea level rise not by the millions of tons of ice they dispersed into the oceans (that ice was already floating), but by allowing the glaciers they once contained to flow freely into the sea.
Sunset Beach, California
Photograph by David McNew, Getty Images
A 2009 report titled the "California Climate Adaptation Strategy" predicts that by 2100, global sea rise will make famed Sunset Beach and the state's many other coastal cities highly vulnerable to regular storm-related inundation. The report goes on to recommend the state ban most new development in these at-risk areas.
Photograph by Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Low-lying and densely populated countries like Bangladesh, where this woman struggles through floodwaters with her children, will bear the initial brunt of global sea level rise. A United Nations panel estimated recently that a three-foot (one-meter) rise in sea levels would submerge 20 percent of the county beneath the Bay of Bengal.
Photograph by Peter Essick, Aurora Photos
The island of Male, capital of the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean, is at ground zero in Earth's sea level rise dilemma. With a maximum elevation of only 8 feet (2.4 meters), even a modest increase in ocean heights would submerge a majority of its territory. To combat the threat, the government erected a seawall around the entire island.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb
Venetians, like these workers squeegeeing the walkway of the Piazza San Marco, are well accustomed to acqua alta. But sea level rise has made the city's natural tidal flooding much more frequent and severe, and the government has undertaken a monumental, $6 billion floodgate project in a desperate attempt to keep the Adriatic at bay.
Photograph by Gabriel Bouys AFP/Getty Images
As sea levels rise, persistent ocean waves reach farther inland, undermining property once well out of harm's way. In Shishmaref, Alaska, where this home was undercut by erosion, the problem is compounded by a reduction in sea ice and the thawing of coastal permafrost.
Tidal Flooding, Maryland
Photograph by Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
Smith Island—Maryland's only inhabited island in the Chesapeake Bay that isn't connected to the mainland by a bridge—is on borrowed time. At an average of less than 2 feet (0.6 meters) above sea level and sinking by the day, this tiny crabbing village of 350-plus residents will likely be among the world's first inhabited islands to be lost—if even only the most optimistic sea level rise predictions come to pass.
Airport Ferry, Maldives
Photograph by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty
The low-lying island nation of Maldives is at risk of disappearing with even a minor change in sea level. Some 80 percent of this Indian Ocean archipelago sits at or below 3.2 feet (1 meter) above sea level. A U.N. climate change panel estimate, which many call overly conservative, predicts the oceans will rise up to 22.8 inches (58 centimeters) by the end of the century.
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