Abu Dhabi faces climate change flood threat - expert

Scientist says capital could have to build walls around coastlines and must invest in research.
Abu Dhabi faces climate change flood threat - expert
By Shane McGinley
Sun 11 Apr 2010 01:48 PM

A leading US academic will tonight warn that Abu Dhabi must invest in research and infrastructure if it is to combat the risk of flooding due to climate change.

David Holland, director of the Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science at New York University, told Arabian Business that the rise in sea levels is “accelerating” and that the UAE capital is “among the dozen or so major cities in the world that are precisely at sea level”.

“[There is] a plausible concern for sea level change that would actually raise the sea level above the current infrastructure,” he said. “That would imply flooding, essentially.”

Holland will present his findings on Sunday evening at a NYU Abu Dhabi Institute event entitled ‘Future Sea Level Projections in New York and Abu Dhabi’. He is speaking as part of an ongoing series by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute.

Holland explained that the melting of the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica is causing global sea levels to rise by 3mm a year. In 100 years, levels are expected to have risen by 30cm.

A report earlier this year by the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi, entitled ‘Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation’, said that around 85 percent of the population and more than 90 percent of the infrastructure in the UAE was located within several metres of the shoreline, and in low-lying areas.

It also stated that “the potential exposure of the UAE, Abu Dhabi in particular, to the impacts of sea level rise given its current socioeconomic conditions in coastal areas is quite significant”.

Holland said there were two solutions to the threat of rising sea levels: reduce carbon emissions by burning less fossil fuels or “build walls around the perimeter of coastlines and migrate softly inland”.

However, he added that research into rising sea levels was still at an early stage and there was not yet sufficient data to know the full impact that burning fossil fuels might have.

“We don’t have reliable projections for sea level because we don’t have the computer models constructed for sea level yet,” he said.

For that reason, Holland believes cities like Abu Dhabi should consider investing in further research into this area.

“The complexity of the problem is that you cannot solve regional sea level change issues until you solve the global one and once you get a handle on the global change then you can figure out what it implies for the region,” he said.

“So regional places are going to have to face up to contributing to global science… I think if Abu Dhabi and other places like that don’t pick up the lead nobody will,” he added.

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