30 january 2021

Rising Seas, Floating Airports

Katelijn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News, January 30, 2021

At least 100 airports around the world could be submerged and 364 airports could be at risk of flooding if global warming exceeds the 2 degrees Celsius limit set by the Paris Agreement, a new study suggests.

The study, by researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, analyzed how sea level rise would affect more than 14,000 airports identified through the OpenFlights database. Coastal airports are vital to the global network of air travel, the study said, and by 2100, 10 to 20 percent of all air travel routes are likely to be at risk of disruption by flooding.

Today, 269 airports already are at risk of flooding, the study said.

“That’s actually a very small percentage of all the airports around the world, but they are disproportionately important,” said Professor Richard Dawson of Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, the study’s co-author.

Airports will need to adapt to sea level rise by building flood walls or raising the runways and facilities, Dawson said. Some airports may even need to relocate or consider converting to a floating airport, although Dawson noted that was far from a mainstream option at this point. Although adaptations would be expensive, Dawson said, they could be rolled into routine refurbishments and remodeling.

Airports in Pacific Island nations are among those at highest risk, with the most at stake. These airports may have only a few flights coming and going per week, but they are vital for sustaining the local population.

“It might be the only way medicine can get in or for ill patients to get out,” Dawson said. “So those airports are often very small and very infrequently used, but are kind of critical to enabling those island communities.”

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