Seas are rising and we should plan for a 3 metre increase, says The Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Posted by Derek Mason

31st March 2020

Climate change is definite. All the science tells us it is happening, whether we like it or not. But we have yet to see whether countries and corporations will respond quickly enough and robustly enough to reduce the impact of global warming.

Joining the chorus of organisations calling for governments to act, is the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). In their recent report, Rising Seas: The Engineering Challenge, they warn that current policies may not be enough to protect people and infrastructure from sea level rises.

The IMechE report – created in collaboration with the Rising Seas Institute – advises governments to plan for sea level rises of one metre in the 21st century. But they warn that infrastructure planning needs to be made with the knowledge that rises could be much greater over the longer term. Consequently, coastal flooding needs to be considered now, even though it may not happen for some time.

Report author and IMechE fellow, Dr Tim Fox explains the report’s conclusions, saying, “Engineered structures, devices and systems – particularly larger projects like bridges, roads or rail lines – can often be in service for 50-100 years. When we are thinking about projects this important to businesses and communities worldwide and the potential for how sea-levels might change in that time, the pressing case for changing our thinking and our approach becomes clear.”

Dr Fox recommends that national policies reflect the emerging evidence that sea levels could rise further and more rapidly than suggested in the most recent predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Aside from the impact to residents in coastal areas, increased sea levels will affect important infrastructure such as waste water plants, power stations and oil refineries.

Ultimately, the report’s recommendations include adapting government policy to take into account a potential three metre rise, to ensure major infrastructure is included in planning, and setting up task forces to handle coastal floods.

The concern for many of us is that the both the UK government and the Environment Agency are unlikely to listen to engineers, and will continue with relatively short term thinking.

But looking at this from a positive angle we are, as a nation, in less trouble than those living below sea level. Experts in the Netherlands have suggested that the country could handle a sea level rise of around 1-1.5m, while a rise of 2m or more would need a complete rethink of their defences.

While most nations are unlikely to be badly affected by rises in the short term, it does seem that with governments failing to act, we’ll reach a situation where our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not choose to live on the coast.

What do you think? Does the IMechEng report demonstrate a sensible response to the evidence?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts this, and if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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