Washington, D.C. under water: what sea level rise looks like

Observed sea level since 1960 (U.S. EPA) Observed sea level since 1960 (U.S. EPA)

Sea levels have risen along the East Coast around 6 to 8 inches since 1960. Under different global warming scenarios, seas could rise 8 inches to several feet by 2100.

The longer term concern is that if warming causes the collapse of the Greenland and/or Antarctic ice sheets, seas could rise tens of feet, although it is thought a rise of that magnitude would take hundreds of years.

Nickolay Lamm, a 24-year-old researcher and artist from StorageFront.com, was motivated to gain a better idea of what such a devastating rise in sea level would look like.  And so he created a set of surreal images showing treasured landmarks swallowed by sea water.

Here’s the Jefferson Memorial under 0, 5, 12, and 25 feet of water:

Images from Nickolay Lamm
Images from Nickolay Lamm
Nickolay Lamm
Images from Nickolay Lamm

Here’s the Washington Monument 0, 5, 12, and 25 feet of water:

Images from Nickolay Lamm
Images from Nickolay Lamm
Images from Nickolay Lamm
Images from Nickolay Lamm

To create these visualizations, Lamm took stock photos of the different landmarks, used Google Earth to determine their exact location, and applied mapped sea level rise projections obtained from Climate Central.

In addition to the Jefferson and Washington monuments, he created visualizations from landmarks in Miami, New York City, and Boston viewable in a multimedia post at Mashable.com

Here’s also a video animation of the inundations:

“The inspiration for these sea level rise photos came from What Could Disappear from the New York Times,” Lamm wrote on his blog.  “Because the maps shown were not in a high enough resolution to figure out exactly which places would be flooded, I got in touch with Remik Ziemlinski from Climate Central who gave me access to more precise versions of the same maps that New York Times used.”

Even if you’re skeptical of some of the more alarming and dramatic sea level rise projections from global warming, these visuals can give you a realistic sense of what hurricane storm surge flooding could do in these East Coast cities. Major hurricanes could bring double digit foot surges up and down the East Coast (although a 25-foot surge is probably unrealistic – in the current climate).

Hurricane Sandy swamped sections of New York City with a 14 foot surge, and, in 2003, Hurricane Isabel sent an 8-foot surge up the Potomac River.

Related: If Hurricane Sandy had come south: the dramatic storm surge scenario for Washington, D.C.

(Sources of images: StorageFront.com).

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · April 24, 2013

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