This is what climate change will look like in D.C. Pentagon employees would have a new boat-to-work option, while tourists on the National Mall would be able to see the monuments by kayak.
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This is what climate change will look like in D.C.

The Lincoln Memorial would eventually be on an island in the Potomac River, if the world keeps burning fossil fuels. Courtesy of/Climate Central hide caption

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Courtesy of/Climate Central

The Lincoln Memorial, on an island surrounded by churning Potomac waters; Nationals Park, a bathtub surrounded by mid-rise office buildings flooded by the Anacostia River; the Pentagon, accessible by boat, with State Route 110 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway underwater.

These are images of the possible climate-change-induced future in D.C., if the world continues on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.

"The decision that we're making right now is which trajectory we're going to take," says Andrew Pershing, director of climate science with the nonprofit Climate Central. The group published a peer-reviewed research paper documenting the longterm threat that sea-level rise poses to the world's coastal cities. As part of the project, the group generated images of at-risk cities around the globe, with projections of future sea-level rise, depending on emissions trajectories.

If the world continues on the current emissions pathway, we can expect roughly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of this century. The Paris Climate Agreement aimed to limit warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.

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"What we really wanted to illustrate with this study is that there there are big consequences that are baked in with the choices that we're making, and these consequences are going to play out not just over decades, but over generations to come," says Pershing. "They're going to potentially reshape the coastlines around the world."

These images represent predictions of the longterm sea-level rise that will eventually result, if the globe warms 3 degrees. This rising of the oceans could take centuries, even after carbon emissions stop, as glaciers and ice sheets melt. Even if global carbon emissions were to magically end tomorrow, the oceans would still rise several feet due to the greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere.

D.C. doesn't face the same sort of risk from sea-level rise as cities closer to the ocean, but the District's two rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia, are both tidal within the city limits, meaning they are directly influenced by the ocean's tides and level.

Later this month world leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for a climate conference, the COP26, where they will announce plans to cut emissions over the next decade. To keep below 1.5 degrees of warming, the world would need to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The images from the study show that with deep emissions cuts, keeping warming to 1.5 degrees, sea-level rise would be substantially mitigated. In D.C., with 1.5 degrees of warming, the Lincoln Memorial would not be an island, the Pentagon parking lots would be dry, as would the neighborhood around Nationals Park.

Much of the D.C. area is on relatively high ground; but other areas in the Mid-Atlantic are not so fortunate. With 3 degrees of warming, much of the Eastern Shore would eventually be inundated. This includes all of the barrier islands, such as Assateague, and all the popular Atlantic beaches, such as Ocean City and Rehoboth.

On a global scale, 10% of the world's population currently lives in areas that would be underwater at high tide with 3 degrees of warming, according to the study.

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