Published on 31 Aug 2023

Coastal habitats face destruction in 30 years from rising sea levels

Dr Timothy Shaw in a forest

A team of international scientists led by NTU Singapore and Macquarie University in Australia has found that rising seas will once again devastate coastal habitats within the next 30 years, based on analysis of data on sea levels since the last Ice Age. 

Seventeen thousand years ago, a person could walk from Singapore to Indonesia or the Philippines, Germany to England, Russia to America, or mainland Australia to Tasmania, as sea levels were about 120 metres lower than today. However, as the last Ice Age ended, increasing temperatures caused the oceans to rise rapidly, by one metre a century on average.  

This catastrophe wiped out vast swathes of coastal habitats globally, and it took thousands of years for nature to recover from the rapid loss. The team of scientists said that a catastrophe of a similar scale would happen again if warming levels rose above Paris Agreement targets. 

The scientists say coastal habitats, such as mangroves, marshes, coral reefs and coral islands, are essential to protect coastlines, trap carbon, nurture juvenile fish and help sustain millions of coastal residents. 

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. 

Co-authored by Professor Benjamin Horton and Dr Timothy Shaw from NTU’s EOS, the findings from a team of researchers from 17 institutions in Australia, Singapore, Germany, the US, Hong Kong and the UK were published in the journal Nature

NTU’s EOS is now providing the first quantification of the survival thresholds and ecological tipping points for mangrove and coral reefs in Singapore. It will use this information to assess the long-term viability of nature-based solutions. This project is funded by the Marine Climate Change Science (MCCS) Programme. 

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