• Worst case scenario would see much of the UK submerged
• Research is based on 3 major ice sheets melting
• There still remains a 1 in 20 chance of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting
"In terms of the science, the values are approximately right if the ice sheets do melt, with the exception of the last prediction. The question is whether these things are likely to happen or not." - DR TIM OSBORN
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THE UK's major coastal cities could be submerged as a result of massive sea-level rises over the next two centuries, transforming the British mainland into a string of islands, according to latest research.
In a doomsday scenario, the melting of ice sheets caused by global warming could mean that Scotland's major coastal conurbations, including Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness, and smaller settlements such as Peterhead and Ullapool, could be wiped off the map completely.
Experts say the flash floods and sweltering heat that have swept across Britain during the past few weeks could be a harbinger of major problems in the future.
The study suggests that the planet's rapidly changing weather patterns will have a devastating effect on the UK. According to the most extreme model, England and Wales would be most affected, with the centre of London and many cities and coastal towns under water.
The research was led by Professor Bill McGuire, a leading authority on environmental issues at University College London's Benfield Hazard Research Centre. He was commissioned to carry out the work by the satellite network UKTV History to mark the start of the series The British Isles, A Natural History.
Although numerous studies have suggested Britain could be affected by rising sea levels as a result of melting Polar ice caps, the latest research presents a much more extreme outcome - and one with which other experts disagree.
Dr Tim Osborn, from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia - one of the world's leading institutions on global warming - expressed doubts over the predictions, saying they "would not be relevant to society for a very long time, if ever".
Data for the predicted course of events was gathered by a team who spent two months matching rising sea- level scenarios against topography data from a Space Shuttle mission, to produce the first detailed maps showing the possible impact of global warming on the shape of the British landscape.
The team unveiled three potential scenarios:
A seven-metre rise in sea levels if the Greenland or West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted.
A 13-metre rise if both the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted.
An 84-metre rise if the East Antarctic Ice Sheet also melted.
Worryingly, the experts concluded that there was at least a one-in-20 chance that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would melt in just 200 years.
Previous reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001 predicted only that the West Antarctic ice sheet may "begin" to melt in the next two centuries.
The latest paper suggests this new, fast-melt scenario would lead to a rise of six to seven metres in sea levels that would drown the centre of London and leave cities and towns including Edinburgh, Newcastle, Scunthorpe, Bristol, Plymouth, Norwich, Peterborough and Bournemouth waterlogged.
In the highly populated London area, it would mean a massive relocation project, with much of the boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Bexley and Barking under water, along with large areas of south Essex and north Kent.
A 13-metre rise would see the sea encroaching far inland, especially in East Anglia, Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire, Cheshire and the Severn Estuary.
The worst scenario is the 84-metre rise. The team pointed out that this would only happen if the world did nothing about carbon gas emissions, leading to a runaway greenhouse effect. If we ever reached this state, little beyond the hills and mountains making up Wales, Scotland, the south-west and spine of England, will remain above the waves.
Professor McGuire said: "If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, along with the continued thermal expansion of seawater, we could see London and many other coastal cities disappearing beneath the waves in the next 200 years."
But Dr Osborn said: "[These predictions] don't seem quite right to me.
"I think they have overestimated [the third and most serious prediction] if all three different ice sheets melted. There would be a big rise of about 65-70 metres, not 84 metres, so they must have double-counted somewhere.
"In terms of the science, the values are approximately right if the ice sheets do melt, with the exception of the last prediction. The question is whether these things are likely to happen or not."
He claimed the most serious prediction involving the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, where most of the ice in the world exists, was "extremely unlikely".
This is because the East Antarctic is far colder, by some 15C, than the other two major ice sheets, Greenland and the West Antarctic. Even if the global temperature does increase by five or ten degrees, it will still remain frozen.
But Dr Osborn added: "I don't want to say sea-level rise isn't going to happen, as even if you only have a one-metre rise it will cause significant problems."