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These images show what Boston landmarks may look like underwater depending on the weather choices we make

These images show what Boston landmarks may look like underwater depending on the weather choices we make

Boston Common has been the site of grazing cattle, public hangings, and protests against slavery and wars in its lifetime. It has also seen visits from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II as well as the daily gatherings of families and friends. And depending on the choices made in the next few years, it may one day see the Charles River rise as ocean levels rise due to climate change and swallow the historic landmark.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow for the next round of international climate talks, they will be discussing the difference of degrees, attempting to align the current trajectory, which would result in 3 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial temperatures by the end of the century, with the Paris Agreement's goal of 1.5 degrees.

The difference between those two values may seem trivial, but as new research on Tuesday shows, it has a real impact such as whether or not the Common will be underwater.

What we do in the next 10 years will affect us for 10,000 years, said Benjamin Strauss, the chief scientist of Climate Central, an independent body of prominent scientists and journalists that released the study. I dont think theres been a time in human history when weve been fully able to assess what heuristics and omissions our present actions and decisions may have on so many generations to come, remarked the anthropologist.

Climate Central has used the latest data on sea level rise and climate change to explain the difference between Boston and other coastal cities around the world at 1.5 degrees Celsius versus 3 degrees C over the next 200 to 2,000 years, in hundreds of images and an interactive map. Three of those locations show how high the stakes are in Boston. What the images illustrate, according to Strauss, is the zone we can save.

Boston under projected sea levels of Bostons Harbor.

The goal of the project is to highlight the uncertainties arising from the Glasgow talks. According to UN Secretary General Antnio Guterres, the commitments made by nations leading into the talks are not nearly enough to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but rather place the globe on a catastrophic path to 2.7 degrees.


Already, the world has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times. According to Climate Central, the amount of carbon in our atmosphere that has resulted in that warming is enough to cause an average of 6.2 feet of sea level rise around the world and that doesn't include any emissions after 2020.

In some parts of Boston, which Strauss claims is particularly vulnerable due to its high amount of coastal development, sea level rise already will put some areas underwater in coming centuries. How much worse it gets will depend on whether warming is held at 1.5 degrees Celsius or allowed to continue at 3 Celsius.

The Edward W. Brooke Courthouse near the Haymarket T station shows just how bad it will get. According to the Climate Central projection, even at 1.1 degrees Celsius, the area surrounding the courthouse will be underwater. At 1.5 degrees Celsius and 3 degrees C, those waters only rise higher.


3 degrees Celsius of warming a half-mile away could bring water up to the Old North Church. Many parts of Battery Wharf and the waterfront would be underwater despite a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature.


If climate change is held to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rising seas will affect land today inhabited by 510 million people. At 3 degrees Celsius of warming, that number would reach more than 800 million people or 10 percent of the world's population.

The risks are particularly acute for low-lying island nations, as well as for towns in Asia, which, according to sea level rise projections, may be almost entirely underwater.

If we want to limit warming to the level that scientists believe is closest to safe, namely 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, it means the world must cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030, Strauss stated. We know how to do it we have the technology. Its just a matter of actually choosing to do it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse's age. It is 22 years old and was built in 1999.

Sabrina Shankman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shankman

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