As many as 200 million people could fall permanently below the high tide line by 2100.
- Sea level rise caused by climate change threatens millions of people worldwide.
- A new study suggests that previous estimates of the threats of coastal flooding were based on incorrect measurements of land elevation.
- Coastal regions in Asia are especially vulnerable.
The number of people threatened by climate change-related flooding is three times higher than previously thought, according to new research.
A study published by Climate Central in Nature Communications suggests that 300 million people will live in low-lying areas vulnerable to chronic flooding by 2050, and that 200 million people could fall permanently below the high tide line by the end of the century.
Climate Central said past estimates fall short because the topographical data had incorrectly measured the elevation of land, particularly within the developing world. The study found much more low-lying land worldwide than previously thought.
The problem with elevation estimates
In the U.S. and other nations, airborne lidar radar is used to accurately measure the elevation of land. But, considering the cost of technologies like lidar, not all countries measure topography. For these areas, NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) has used space-based radar technology to get a general idea of land elevation throughout the world.
The problem is that this technology often mistakes trees, or other objects protruding from the ground, as land.
"As a result, SRTM data generally overestimate elevation, particularly in densely forested and built-up areas," Climate Central wrote in a report. "In low-lying parts of coastal Australia, for instance, SRTM data overestimate elevation by an average of 8.2 feet (2.5 meters). Globally, the average overestimate appears to be roughly six feet (two meters). These values match or exceed most of the highest sea level rise projections for the entire century."
A 'global story'
To get a new (and hopefully more accurate) picture of land elevation across the planet, Climate Central combined SRTM data with machine-learning techniques. The results suggest coastal regions in Asia are especially vulnerable to flooding caused by sea-level rise, according to the report.
"Sea level rise is a global story, and it affects every coastal nation. But in the coming decades, the greatest effects will be felt in Asia, thanks to the number of people living in the continent's low-lying coastal areas. Mainland China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand are home to the most people on land projected to be below average annual coastal flood levels by 2050."
It's made from Chernobyl water and rye. What could possibly go wrong?
- 33 years later, parts of the exclusion zone may be ready to be reclaimed.
- The beverage similar to Ukrainian vodka will soon be available.
- Raise a glass to the renewable Earth.
This just-announced grain spirit is called "ATOMIK," an excellent name given its source. It's made from water and rye from the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine. This is an area surrounding the ill-fated nuclear plant that's considered so radioactive that no one is supposed to live there. It's currently a wildlife refuge in which visible mutations are less common than one might expect. Environmental scientist Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth and his colleagues are making a statement by introducing their beverage: Some areas we've ruined can recover given enough time. The same point could be made for the effect of climate change — eventually, the Earth will survive. It's less clear that we will.
What’s it taste like?
Image source: Chernobyl Spirits Company
There's only one bottle of ATOMIK so far, but the company producing it, Chernobyl Spirits Company, expects to distill 500 of them by the end of the year. The liquor is said to have a fruity taste and work well in a martini. As a grain spirit, ATOMIK is a bit more flavorful than commercially produced vodka. The company is shooting for a more refined version of samagon, a homemade vodka brewed since the 12th century in the villages of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Russia, using either potatoes or grains.
Checking the label
Image source: Chernobyl Spirits Company
The Chernobyl disaster threw into the air upwards of 100 radioactive elements. Some of it, such as highly carcinogenic iodine-131, has a short half-life, and is long gone. Other dangerous isotopes last for far longer and are still present. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 have just about reached their half life date, and so remain at about 50% potency. Others, like plutonium-239, with a half life of 24,000 years, aren't going anywhere.
Still, swaths of the exclusion zone are much like anywhere else, at least in terms of radioactivity — their plants and animals may still contain genetic surprises. As Smith teold IFL Science, "Natural radiation worldwide varies — if you're living at high altitudes, you get more cosmic radiation. For most of the exclusion zone, the doses that you would get living there are within that range of variability of radiation doses worldwide." Some areas immediately around the ex-power plant remain uninhabitable. The "Red Forest" is still unsuitable for a picnic, for example.
The water in ATOMIK is mineral water from a deep aquifer about 10 km south of Chernobyl which the company believes is located too far down to have become contaminated: "We're currently trying to work out exactly how many thousands of years old this water is, but it definitely wasn't anywhere near the surface in 1986." They describe it as being pure and of high quality, similar to the waters of the limestone aquifer beneath the Champagne region in France, as well as the south of England.
The rye in ATOMIK was harvested from the main exclusion zone and was tested for the presence of radiocaesium. The isotope was present in levels well below the conservative Urainium maximum. The levels of radiostrontium, however, exceeded the legal limit. Nonetheless, when the final grain spirit was tested, no radioactivity at all was found in the beverage.
What's the point?
Some current residents of the Chernobyl exclusion zone
Image source: Chernobyl Spirits Company
Chernobyl Sprits company has a larger message than simply creating a provocative new refreshment. The want authorities to reconsider the exclusion zone now that so much time has passed since the Chernobyl meltdown:
More than thirty years after the accident, we believe that what these areas need most is economic development and management of the unique wildlife resource the abandoned areas represent.
When it comes to ISIS, terrorism, and global and domestic instability, America has been its own worst enemy.
For the last 25 years, the U.S. has based its foreign policy on a sense of primacy and idealism rather than restraint and realism, says William Ruger, Vice President for Research and Policy, Charles Koch Foundation. Ruger asserts that the U.S. failed to recognize the human and economic cost of international military and political intervention. "We've really opened up all kinds of challenges in this attempt to open up an exemplar for the Middle East. We actually have created an exemplar," he says, "an exemplar of what can go wrong if you engage in the world without first thinking carefully about what is necessary for American safety, and what the unintended consequences of our behavior could be..." The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.
ISIS, Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima—for each of these disastrous developments, there was someone with a bunch of data that no one would listen to.
Noticing a pattern emerge in the aftermath of some of the worst catastrophes in recent years—like Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima, and the formation of ISIS—global security experts Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy wrote a book called Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. It is an historical investigation and instructive framework that can be used to predict disasters before they occur. How can they do that? Well, the predictions already exist, it's just that no-one is listening. These people making the predictions—who are always experts with strong data to support their claim, but who are dismissed by other experts—are known as 'Cassandras' (a name taken from Greek mythology). By sifting through history to find past Cassandras, they have developed a system to know which predictions are false alarms, and which are absolutely critical to humanity's future. Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy's new book is Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.