We All Know Glaciers Are Melting. Here's What Major Cities Will Look Like When They're All Gone.

A planner maps extreme sea level rise, turning Los Angeles, New York, London, and other cities into urban archipelagoes.

(Photo: Thomas Jackson/Getty Images)

Feb 11, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The earth’s surface is only 30 percent land; 70 percent is ocean.

Jeffrey Linn, a Seattle urban planner, is using digital cartography to imagine worlds that are even more watery.

You don’t need a starship to visit them, although a time machine would be useful. That’s because Linn’s maps depict what some cities would like if sea levels went up by 80 meters, or 264 feet.

New York City. (Map: Courtesy Spatialities.com)

For sea levels to rise this much, all the major ice caps and sheets would need to melt, which would send the water they store on land flowing into the world’s ocean.

Linn pulled the number from a study made by the United States Geological Survey.

He points out that even in future climate scenarios where we do little or nothing to curb the worst impacts of global warming, that kind of flooding would take centuries if not millennia to come about.

Inside The Business of Organics
Los Angeles. (Map: Courtesy Spatialities.com)

“I’m not trying to be a doomsayer,” Linn said. “The fascinating thing for me is the landforms, the islands, bays, and seas that emerge when you do this modeling.”

But our failure to act fast on climate change is accelerating the process. So if these visions of Seattle; Montreal; Vancouver, British Columbia; and other cities reduced to archipelagoes—or submerged completely underwater—got people thinking harder about climate change, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

London. (Map: Courtesy Spatialities.com)

Linn made his first drowned city map, “Islands of Seattle,” about a year and a half ago, he said. He was inspired in part by Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which the novelist created a “future anthropology” of California. “The book includes a couple maps of the California Central Valley and how it looks after the sea levels have risen,” said Linn. “That got me thinking, ‘How would the world around me look once all the world’s ice sheets were to melt?’ ”

Seattle Glacier Water
Seattle. (Map: Courtesy Spatialities.com)

The maps are studded with in-jokes for locals, “clever place names, to temper the horror of what could actually happen with a bit of humor,” Linn said. “Gallows humor, I suppose.”

A drowned New York City becomes N.Y. Sea, where an underwater Central Park is now called Central Shark. On the other coast, a protected bay near Hollywood is named Los Atlantis.

Portland Glacier Water
Portland. (Map: Courtesy Spatialities.com)

Linn sent a poster of his map of drowned Portland, Oregon, titled “Islands of Portland,” to Le Guin, who lives there—and whose 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven is set in a climate-changed future Portland. “I got a very nice note back,” he said. “She really appreciated it.”

Linn hopes to publish a book of sea-level-rise maps, a sort of atlas of a drowned world. In the meantime he’s put posters of his maps for sale on his website, spatialities.com.

Linn is also contributing maps to Dreams of a Low Carbon Future, a graphic novel about global warming in the United Kingdom cities of York and Leeds. A group at the University of Leeds is producing the book, which is set 200 years in the future.