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Underwater Golf? How Rising Sea Levels Will Affect St Andrews

A study by Climate Central in 2021 suggests St Andrews is in far graver danger from the impacts of climate change than many might think. It is possible that large areas of our beloved town, including parts of the Old Course, could be underwater as soon as 2050. When I asked students why they think the University of St Andrews is taking action to be more sustainable, I received a range of different responses. A third-year student believes that being ‘green’ keeps the University relevant today in an eco-aware society.


When I asked a second-year student, her response was that the University has a responsibility to set an example of being carbon-neutral to other organisations. Another third year deemed it important to help those in the world affected by climate change and prevent rising sea levels by doing our part to be green. Perhaps you share one of these views; however, given our supposed isolation from the impact, it can be easy to underestimate the proximity of these issues when, in reality, we should be far more concerned.


We are less isolated from the consequences of climate change than we may have once convinced ourselves and should consider prioritising sustainability measures as individuals and as an institution. I’m sure we’ve all felt the Baltic winds and torrential rain recently, but dig out those Saints Sport windbreakers and wellies that have been deep in your wardrobe since Welly Ball; it's going to get worse.


Fife Council declared a “Climate Emergency” back in 2019, and councillors have been preparing the county for more frequent extreme weather events. Last August, Glenrothes saw more than a month's worth of rainfall, 106mm, in one night. Dundee experienced similar disasters, such as countless homes being flooded and the Victoria Hospital car park flooding; the latter resulted in cars piled on top of one another. Similar disasters have been predicted for 2023 by Dr Rick Haynes, lead consultant on flooding. When asked if we can expect to see another similar event, he declared “the only thing we can say is these events are becoming more frequent and more extreme. We’re expecting to have these events happen multiple times”.


The impacts of climate change are knocking at the door of our small town on the remote eastern coast. Evidence from the Met Office has shown the mean sea level around the UK has risen by approximately 1.4mm per year since the start of the 20th century. As a coastal town, we are in imminent danger from rising sea levels. Moreover, we have a lot to lose if things continue how they are at present, from our beaches and golf courses, to our university and our homes.


Many of us have not been here long enough to remember the 2015 flood that halted the Open for a few long hours, but we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to repair the damage. Now, our celebration of the 150th year of the tournament may be one of its last quadranscentennial anniversaries.


The report by Climate Central in 2021, analysed by The Herald, predicted that rising sea levels and frequent flooding could result in the loss of large parts of the Scottish coastline. In 2018, Climate Central and The University of Dundee used Montrose Links, situated on the North Sea in the north[1]east of Scotland, as a case study for this problem. The report found that the North Sea had moved 70 metres closer to the mediaeval golf course. They are not alone; one in six of Scotland’s golf courses are located on the coastline, including ours. As early as 2050, Climate Central’s scientists suggest St Andrews could be largely submerged under the North Sea, including parts of our 471-year-old golf course. As soon as 2100, our 610-year old university and all of our beautiful history could be underwater too. The R&A pledged £650,000 to protect the golf courses from the drastic effects of climate change in 2020, but it is not only the golf course that we will lose with rising sea levels. A report in Earth’s Future, 2014, addressing the 21st and 22nd-century sea-level projections demonstrates that land loss due to rising sea levels is not an exaggerated worst-case scenario.


The probable rise is enough to greatly damage ecosystems, infrastructure, and coastal settlements. This is another reason why it is so vitally important that the University is sustainable and we join in their effort, lest we see the town we love swept away with frequent extreme weather and rising sea levels.



Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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