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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): the heart of geography
Where in the world is the ice?
Why are our glaciers shrinking?
Living with glaciers
What landforms of erosion will disappearing ice reveal?
How will melting glaciers affect people living in the UK?
How will melting glaciers affect people living in other countries?

Glacial environments - How will melting glaciers affect people living in the UK?

Glacial environments

This lesson looks at how melting glaciers might affect the UK.

Key questions

  • What happens to sea levels when glaciers melt and water runs into the sea?
  • How will our place be affected by sea level rise?
  • How will sea level rise in other places impact on life in our place?

Key concepts

  • Space
  • Scale
  • Physical Processes
  • Interdependence
  • Environmental interaction

What happens to sea levels when glaciers melt and water runs into the sea?

Scientists think world sea-level could rise by more than half a metre this century. Primarily this is because sea water is getting warmer and expanding (this is known as thermal expansion of the oceans). But polar ice is starting to melt and adding more water to the oceans - this will greatly increase in importance as a cause of sea-level rise during the course of the next century.

The sea-level rise will be most apparent in places where the land is sinking too. In southeast England, the land is sinking as a result of post-Pleistocene isostatic readjustment. In parts of Bangladesh, the Ganges delta is naturally subsiding due to its depositional nature and sea-level rise of over one metre are projected perhaps by mid-century.

How will our place be affected by sea level rise?

Because physical geography connects different places together, the melting of glaciers in distant places can impact on people living in the UK in varied ways. In an interconnected world, we may all suffer impacts caused by melting ice elsewhere, and settlements may be affected by sea level rises in diverse and different ways.

For locations close to sea-level, lower-impact scenarios of one metre to five metres will have very significant results. For places further inland (for example, on inland river flood plains), the effects of a much more extreme sea-level rise could be thought about (for example, a total loss of land-based ice could result in a 70 metre rise). If there is no risk, then the nearest threatened coastal settlement can be substituted. Protection can also be considered. In some sparsely populated areas, the costs of protection against sea level rise might outweigh the benefits.

The Environment Agency website contains a postcode-searchable flood risk map which can be used to investigate the risk of flooding in locations in the UK.

How will sea level rise in other places impact on life in our place?

This question touches on issues of interconnectedness and interdependency. We currently rely on trade imports from around the globe, and can find a whole range of these products in our local shops. Sea level rise and the consequences of flooding and/or mass migration in producing regions could have an impact on the range and types of products that we can obtain locally.

Similarly, we may start to be constrained in terms of our potential holiday destinations. Venice is a very popular tourist resort with around seven million visitors each year. However, the resort is very low-lying (zero metres above sea level), built on unstable subsiding marshland and already floods several times a year. Already a combination of subsidence and sea level rise means that the city has "lost" 23 cm to the sea since 1900. How will the city fare with increased sea levels?

A further impact on our local area as a result of sea level rise elsewhere in the world may be an influx of "climate change refugees", people who are forced to emigrate from their countries as they become uninhabitable. One estimate puts the potential number of people who may be forced to move at 200 million. Where will they go? Will countries place limits on immigration? Many of the same questions and issues arising from immigration today will be relevant under these circumstances as well.




What happens to sea levels when glaciers melt and water runs into the sea?

Take a look back at the where is the ice PowerPoint from lesson one.

Discuss the following questions with the rest of your class:

How high do you think sea levels could rise if each one of these different bodies of ice were to melt?

Where will the impacts of this sea level rise be felt?



How will our place be affected by sea level rise?

In this activity, you will think about how rising sea levels could impact on your own home town.

The how will melting ice affect our place document gives full instructions for the task.

You will need:

  • An Ordnance Survey map (preferably 1:25,000) of your local area
  • Access to the Internet to visit the Environment Agency website
  • Access to Google Earth (if possible)

Complete the table to organise your findings and to highlight the possible impacts of sea level rise on different places, people, businesses and environments in your local area.

Now summarise what you've found out as a poster using the our place template. You'll need to think about the threats of sea level rise to the:

  • Homeowners and families
  • Businesses and tourist industries
  • Schools, hospitals and other services
  • Plants animals and ecosystems
    in your local area.

When you have completed your poster, present your findings to the rest of the class and compare results. Have you all included the same ideas? If not, add some of the other ideas to your poster too.



How will sea level rise in other places impact on life in our place?

Places around the world are interconnected and interdependent. This means that they are linked together through flows of people, products and money, and rely on each other too - especially for trade.

We have already looked at the ways that sea level rise will affect our local area directly. But sea level rise in other parts of the world will also have an impact.

Here are some questions to think about and to discuss with the rest of the class:

  • What products may no longer be sold in local shops due to flooding in other places where these products are made or grown?
  • How might the holiday destinations of local people change due to flooding (for example, in Venice)?
    Might more refugees (climate change refugees) need to come and live here if their own countries become uninhabitable?
  • What are the knock-on effects of all of these things?
  • Can you think of any other possible impacts?

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