Map which claimed to show US climate impacts in 2050 is debunked as photo of the Mediterranean Sea

While sea level rise does threaten US coastlines, it doesn’t do so in the way that went viral over the weekend

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Monday 11 July 2022 17:49 BST
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A map currently floating around social media claims to show what the US would look like after the climate crisis raises global sea levels.

This weekend, a map went viral on Twitter and garnered over ninety-six thousand “likes” even though it’s completely inaccurate. The post, which reads “Scientists say this map represents the US in 30 years if we don’t reverse climate change”, doesn’t show a potential future shoreline -- it’s just a photo-edit of the Mediterranean Sea on top of the US.

Sea level rise does legitimately threaten many coastal communities and ecosystems in North America, just not in the way shown in this image.

There’s a few obvious tells that this is a fake map, even for people who might be unfamiliar with the shape of the Mediterranean. For one, the iconic boot shape of Italy is sticking out from the southeast corner of Montana, complete with Sicily hovering somewhere near Kansas.

Secondly, the “oceans” are mostly concentrated in the middle part of the country, as opposed to the coasts. As sea level rises, the coastlines are going to be eaten away, carving out low-elevation areas in states like Florida, Delaware and the Carolinas.

This map, on the other hand, shows those low elevation coastal areas completely unchanged, with oceans instead filling in over the Rocky Mountains, which sit over a mile (1,609 metres) above sea level.

The Associated Press reports that the photo originates from a 2015 blog post by architect Bret Drager, who only intended to see if the Mediterranean Sea would fit inside the US. Drager told AP that that he has had debunk these sorts of false claims about the map related to climate change numerous times.

As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide warm the planet, glaciers and ice sheets like those in Antarctica and Greenland are melting, adding more and more water into the world’s ocean and raising sea levels. In addition, the oceans are getting warmer, causing that water to expand — and raise sea levels even further.

Even if the world drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels are projected to rise by at least half a metre (1.6 feet) by the end of the century, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With higher emissions, sea levels could rise by six metres (20 ft) or more by the year 2300, IPCC says. In such a scenario, places like New York City, Bangladesh and Amsterdam would be almost unrecognizable.

Higher elevation places like the Rocky Mountains will change with the climate crisis too — just not because of sea level rise. Mountain glaciers are melting, and ecosystems unique to some mountain ranges face threats as warmer temperatures and encroaching vegetation from lower areas potentially push out some high-elevation species.

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