Denmark prepares for the floods

Global warming and rising sea levels are expected to hit Denmark hard. The small country has 7,000 kilometres of coastline and most of its major cities – including the capital Copenhagen – are located next to the sea. As André Anwar in Stockholm reports, urban planners are calling for reinforced dykes.

Rising sea levels jeopardise the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen. (Photo credit: Jacob Surland, flickr)

Rising sea levels jeopardise the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen. (Photo credit: Jacob Surland, flickr)

It’s a nearly unstoppable combination: rising global temperatures are causing the polar ice caps to melt, which in turn results in rising sea levels. Coastal countries such as Bangladesh could find themselves almost completely submerged. Denmark is also in jeopardy, with scientists warning that this could be the biggest challenge facing the small country and its 5.6 million population.

Sea level rise is here to stay

All of Denmark’s major cities are located along the country’s 7,000-kilometre-long coastline. “Our country could very well experience a 70-centimetre rise in sea levels by 2100,” Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen from the Danish Meteorological Institute recently warned. The Danish citizen is one of the most influential writers behind the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Even more bleak is that even if world leaders succeed in reaching an agreement at the climate change conference in Paris to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise – and there is nothing that can be done to change this.

“Sea level rise is a phenomenon that is here to stay,” he told the newspaper Politiken. The reason is twofold: warm water takes up more space than cold water, and Greenland’s ice sheet is going to melt on a massive scale, according to the expert.

Antarctica affects northern Europe

The scientist is especially concerned about developments in the South Pole and their impact on Denmark. Due to the so-called gravity effect, ice melting at the poles affects gravity, impacting sea levels on the other side of the globe. As Hesselbjerg Christensen explains, Greenland ice melt in the north Atlantic affects Australia, while ice melt from the South Pole is felt in northern Europe.

“The development of sea levels in the future is related to the speed with which the huge ice sheets on the western edge of Antarctica collapse. If a really big chunk of ice from Antarctica falls into the water, it could cause a massive rise in sea levels along Denmark’s coasts,” he warns.

A recent report out of Cambridge University called Climate Change: A Risk Assessment reached the same conclusion. The only open question is just how quickly the ice will melt, it writes.

Copenhagen plans to build sluices

The combination of sea level rise, rainfall and storms is making it especially difficult to forecast what Denmark will face, says the Danish ministry of the environment, and the ministry is currently calculating different flood scenarios and potential countermeasures.

With good reason: people in Copenhagen still remember with horror the Bodil, a storm that caused water levels to rise by 1.68 metres in December 2013. Just two centimetres more would have led to unprecedented problems as the water would have flooded the subway system. The city and many other municipalities in the country are now busy trying to come up with a plan as to where dykes and sluices should be built.

“At the moment it look as though the most feasible solution for Copenhagen is to construct two dykes with sluices on the north and south harbours,” says Lykke Leonardsen, who is responsible for preparing the city for climate change. This will be a mammoth project. Not least of which is that experts, politicians and citizens first have to agree on just what needs to be done.


Photo credit: Jacob Surland, flickr/Creative Commons

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