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Hundreds of coastal airports are threatened by sea level rise

In a study from Newcastle University, researchers have investigated how sea level rise may impact coastal airports and disrupt flight routes. The experts found that even a modest increase in global temperatures would place 100 airports below the mean sea level by the end of this century.

The team used computer modeling to analyze the location of more than 14,000 coastal airports around the world and predict their vulnerability to storm surges at both current and future sea levels. 

The study revealed that 269 airports are already at risk of coastal flooding. In addition, a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius would put 100 airports below mean sea level and 364 airports at risk of flooding. Furthermore, if global average temperature rise exceeds two degrees, as many as 572 airports will be at risk by the end of this century.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world is now on track for an average temperature rise of three degrees Celsius. The current study suggests that this will lead to major flight disruptions without appropriate adaptation, such as increased flood protection, raising land, or relocation.

The team ranked the coastal airports most threatened by sea level rise based on each airport’s flood risk, level of flood protection, and impacts in terms of flight disruption. The airports that are most at risk are in Europe, North America, and Oceania.

Coastal airports in East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific dominated the top 20 most threatened list, with Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok (BKK) coming in first place. 

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10 and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption,” said study co-author Professor Richard Dawson. “Sea level rise therefore poses a serious risk to global passenger and freight movements, with considerable cost of damage and disruption.”

“Moreover, some airports, for example in low-lying islands, play critical roles in providing economic, social and medical lifelines.”

“The cost of adaptation will be modest in the context of global infrastructure expenditure. However, in some locations the rate of sea level rise, limited economic resources or space for alternative locations will make some airports unviable.”

The study is published in the journal Climate Risk Management.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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