Plan for three metre sea level rise, warns IMechE

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) is urging governments around the world to plan for sea level rises of up to three metres.

sea level
(Credit: Putneypics via Flickr)

In its new report, Rising Seas: The Engineering Challenge, the institution warns that current policies for coastal adaptation to heightened sea levels may not be adequate. IMechE said governments should be planning for sea level rises of one metre this century, but that infrastructure planning should take into account the possibility of a much bigger increase over the longer term.

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“There is emerging evidence that sea-levels could rise further and more rapidly than the most recent predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” said IMechE fellow and report author Dr Tim Fox. “In light of this, it is essential that governments and the engineering profession consider this when designing and implementing national policies and strategies for adaptation to future coastal flooding.

“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.”

While rising seas will directly affect those living in coastal areas, they also have the potential to disproportionately impact key infrastructure such as power stations, oil refineries and wastewater plants, which are often located on the coast or tidal estuaries. Despite this, IMechE said there is little evidence to suggest that the owners and operators of this infrastructure are taking the necessary action to mitigate the risks.

The report, delivered in collaboration with the Rising Seas Institute, outlines the role that engineers can play in addressing the challenge and the steps that should be taken by governments around the world. Its recommendations include adapting policy to acknowledge a potential rise of three metres, ensuring major coastal infrastructure is included in planning, and setting up industry task forces to deal with anticipated coastal flooding events.