ANY FASTER than expected collapse of the West Arctic ice shelf could swamp London with fl ood water unless a 16km Thames Barrier is built, academics warned this week.
The barrier would run between Southend on Sea and Sheerness.
Worst case scenario research carried out for the European Union shows that thermal expansion of sea water and collapse of the ice shelf could raise the sea level by 5m.
The conclusions are the result of the European Union's (EU) Atlantis study.
'The EU wanted to know what might happen if climate change science has got it wrong and the shelf collapsed around 2030, ' said Environment Agency climate scientist Tim Reeder.
In accepted global warming scenarios modelled by the UK Climate Impact Programme, sea level is expected to rise by 1m within the next century.
Collapse of the massive ice shelf is not predicted to happen for 300-400 years.
But were the collapse to be any sooner, the rise in water level would overwhelm existing Thames Estuary flood defences.
It is thought storm surges would also become higher. The surge that swept down the UK's east coast and up the Thames Estuary in 1953, killing 264 people, set in motion plans to build the existing Thames Barrier.
Proposed responses to extreme sea level rise include:
l Reprofi ling the estuary bed to increase its storage capacity l Giving over low lying agricultural land to flood storage l Setting back existing flood embankments along the river's tidal reach l aising and strengthening existing defences.