The submerged city
Uruguay 2100 / Montevideo
The Uruguayan oil refinery, the port, the beaches and the waterfront promenade -better known as the Rambla-, the most vulnerable neighborhoods and the wealthiest ones are at risk of being flooded -in 80 years' time and in an extreme scenario- if the effects of climate change are not curbed, according to public information released by the Uruguayan State. For the first time, a team of scientists and journalists analyzed different databases on the flood line and its impact on the population and relevant infrastructure on the Montevideo coastline.

By Gabriel Farías, Natalie Aubet, Miguel Ángel Dobrich, Nahuel Lamas.
Photos: Matilde Campodónico. Design: Antar Kuri.

November 22nd, 2022
Seventy percent of the Uruguayan population lives in the coastal zone, a strip equivalent to 3.6% of the country's total surface area.
This strip is being modified by the consequences of climate change and human action, impacting a large part of the population, their housing, critical infrastructure, areas of ecological interest and some of the country's main sources of economic resources.
Coastal zone. Source: National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone in the Face of Climate Variability and Chang e, Ministry of the Environment.
The Uruguayan government states in the National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone in the Face of Climate Variability and Change that "the level of vulnerability of coastal resources is high, considering changes in rainfall, discharges from the tributaries of the Río de la Plata, modification of wind patterns and mean sea level."

Global sea level has risen between 21 and 24 centimeters on average since 1880, according to the US. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is rising twice as fast today as it did 30 years ago: from 2.1 millimeters per year between 1993 and 2002, to 4.4 millimeters per year between 2013 and 2022, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

On the Montevideo coast the sea level rose 11 centimeters since 1902 -at a rate of 1.1 millimeter per year- and on the Rocha coast more than 20 centimeters since 1955 -at a rate of 1.4 millimeter per year- according to research on sea level trends in Uruguay carried out by oceanographer José Verocai et al., published in the scientific journal 'International Journal of Marine Science'. In addition, the national benchmark study conducted in 2019 by the Institute of Environmental Hydraulics of the University of Cantabria (Instituto de Hidráulica Ambiental de la Universidad de Cantabria) for the Uruguayan Ministry of the Environment, estimates that the sea in Uruguay will rise between 42 and 58 centimeters by 2100.

Precipitations and winds have also increased and projections indicate that they will continue to increase towards the end of the 21st century. Average annual precipitation increased 10-20% between 1961 and 2017, according to the study Climate Analysis
and Scenarios of Climate Change and Variability in Uruguay (Análisis del clima y escenarios de cambio y variabilidad climática en Uruguay) of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences of the Institute of Physics of the School of Sciences. The research estimates that by 2100 cumulative rainfall will increase 20-30% during autumn and summer, and there will be a greater number of extreme events.

Wind speeds during extreme events on the coast during the winter intensified 10-20%, according to the same study. By 2100, these events are expected to increase in winter in the coastal zone, with speeds of up to 200 km per hour in short periods and 100 km per hour in long periods.

But not all the changes in the environment can be explained by these climate change variables, the main drivers of which are beyond the reach of national policy. "Human intervention degrades the environment much more and exposes vulnerable populations even more than the variation of 1 millimeter per year in sea level," explains Silvia Marcomini, PhD in Geology from the University of Buenos Aires. Marcomini has dedicated herself to research in environmental geology, particularly in coastal areas, and explained for this report that, in addition to taking into account climate variability and change, human action and local public policies must also be considered.

For the researcher, climate change cannot be an excuse to mask unsound public policies. “I am concerned about this because decision makers use climate change to avoid doing other things. Behind climate change they hide the environmental problems of pollution and overexploitation of resources that we are having in these coastal areas, such as sewage drains, garbage dumps, urbanizations, mega-developments that disregard the environmental balance altogether."

Therefore, as a consequence of human action and climate change, Montevideo's geography will be different from what it is today. The analysis of the flood lines carried out by the Ministry of the Environment shows, for the most extreme climate change scenario, that Uruguay's capital will lose -by 2100 and in the face of extreme events- approximately 10% of its surface area. At present, it is 200.7 square kilometers.

According to this study, the floods will impact the city's infrastructure and, above all, they will affect Montevideo's population unequally.
The country we will have
Climate change in Uruguay is unequivocal and evident. The most relevant studies on climate evolution in the country are carried out by researchers from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences of the Institute of Physics of the School of Sciences. Their latest conclusions were disclosed in 2021, in the report Climate Analysis and Scenarios of Climate Change and Variability in Uruguay.


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Flood Impact
In four areas studied in Montevideo, some 18,000 people are at risk of suffering the effects of sea level rise by 2100 and in the face of extreme events.


More than 7,500 Montevideo residents live in areas that will be completely flooded.


Of these, 40% live in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and another 40% in high socioeconomic neighborhoods, based on the 2011 survey data.


About 2,500 live in irregular settlements.
These are some of the conclusions obtained in this research carried out by a team of geologists, specialists in geographic data processing and data journalists.

In order to understand the difference in the impact of floods by variables such as gender, age, access to services, and to provide tools to understand how they influence inequality in the population, areas of different socioeconomic levels were
studied: the area that includes Pajas Blancas, El Cerro and La Teja, and the area comprising La Aguada, Carrasco and Santiago Vázquez neighborhoods.

Simple geoprocessing was carried out where, using Geographic Information Systems, the National Institute of Statistics' 2011 Population Survey database was crossed with the flood line published by the Ministry of the Environment, modeled for the most extreme climate scenario (E10, TR500*).
Representation of the Geostatistical Units used by the National Institute of Statistics (INE, as per its Spanish acronym) and their relationship with the flood surface simulated by the Institute of Environmental Hydraulics of the University of Cantabria (2019).
Thus, a set of maps was obtained that project the flooding surface, population data by age and gender, and infrastructure by survey segment. From the cartographic representation, two types of impacts were obtained: direct, where all infrastructure would be invaded by the water; indirect, where the water would partially surround the structures and survey tracts.

The greatest social vulnerability is associated with sites near streams, ravines and urban drains.
Arroyo Pantanoso, Cerro and Pajas Blancas
The Arroyo Pantanoso, El Cerro and Pajas Blancas basin area is characterized by a high number of irregular settlements and a significant number of vulnerable population that could be directly affected by sea level rise.

Sociologist Laura Marrero, UNDP gender consultant for the National Directorate of Climate Change, spoke for this report about the aspects that define this vulnerability: "The impact of a flood on a precarious house built with waste materials, which is possibly going to destroy it, is not the same as that on a building on the Pocitos waterfront boulevard or a well-built house in Carrasco."

The same is true for mobility. "Many times housing is not affected, but people are unable to move about in their daily routines. If your means of transportation is on foot, by bicycle or motorcycle, you will be impacted differently than if you circulate in a large vehicle."

Employment formality conditions also make a difference: "People who can decide not to work one day, who have leadership or management positions, are in a different situation than those who will lose their wages if they don't go to work.
Moreover, if they do not have access to social security, they will lose the days they miss and run the risk of not being called back."
It is estimated that in the Arroyo Pantanoso and El Cerro - Pajas Blancas area alone, approximately 2,000 people are susceptible to direct damage caused by extreme events.

Of these, approximately 22% are children between 0 and 9 years of age and 5% are elderly adults. The figures almost double for both age groups when considering inhabitants partially affected by these phenomena.

Another 2,000 people would be indirectly affected as their homes would be surrounded by water.
Settlements and gender
The figures indicate that for the total of the areas studied, the percentage of women living in settlements is slightly higher than that of men: 52% versus 48%.

But, as Marrero explains, there may also be a differential impact between women and men in the case of the most vulnerable populations. In contexts such as these, "there is a greater concentration of children than in other areas and, in general, women continue to be in charge of childcare. Also, care of the elderly continues to be a practically universal responsibility of women. Therefore, due to the assigned gender roles, there is
greater pressure on women's time burden."
Cerro / La Teja. Mouth of Arroyo Pantanoso.

Blue Line: current coastline
White polygon: flooded surface
Red polygon: irregular settlement
Carrasco
Projections show that the coastal strip corresponding to Carrasco will be compromised. The major problems arising from frequent or permanent flooding in the area will impact the neighborhood's population and also those who frequent its
beaches in the summer.

Marrero said that, "Were we to be left without a beach in Carrasco, there would be an impact on those who live on the coastline, as they will see their environment modified." For example, the Carrasco Sofitel Casino Hotel is located in an area susceptible to flooding, as well as the entrance to and exit from Arocena Avenue, the neighborhood's main commercial avenue, along the Rambla.

"And there will be an impact on the people who go to the beach in summer," affirmed Marrero. The sociologist said that within the framework of the National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone in the face of Climate Change, qualified informants from the neighborhood were consulted who "told us that the people who live in Carrasco do not use the neighborhood's beach. Some people may go jogging or walking but those who use the beach during the summer season are people from the outlying neighborhoods of Montevideo, who cannot spend the summer in the beach resorts east of the country."

In addition, forecasts predict that, around 2100, extreme events will flood the Carrasco waterfront promenade, one of the main land connections between Montevideo and Canelones.

This forecast contrasts with the strong migration trend from Montevideo to Ciudad de la Costa that has taken place since 2000. Between 1996 and 2011, the population of this area grew by 37.4%. As a result, the national and departmental governments improved the road infrastructure. During the 2000s and 2010s, the entire waterfront road from Canelones to El Pinar, which connects the seaside resorts of Ciudad de la
Costa with the Rambla of Montevideo, was widened with a dual carriageway.

In 2009, the two bridges over Arroyo Carrasco that connect the Montevideo and Canelones waterfront avenues were also inaugurated, which investment amounted to 100 million pesos at the time.

The population to the west of Montevideo, on the mouth of the Santa Lucía River, will face other challenges.
Blue line: current coastline
White polygon: flooded surface
Santiago Vázquez
Santiago Vázquez is a town of 1,500 inhabitants located in the west of Montevideo, on the marshes of the Santa Lucía River, an area of environmental relevance due to its biological diversity.

Although it is located in a high area, the flood projection of the Ministry of the Environment establishes, in a context where conditions causing climate change do not vary, that the river floods will inundate the lower areas. This would leave the town isolated.
This is the map of Santiago Vázquez on the border
between Montevideo and the Department of San José.
The Ministry of the Environment projects for 2100 -and in
case of extreme events- that this area could be flooded.
Figures indicate the number of people living in each
survey tract.
The Santiago Vázquez prison -which has a population of more than 3,500 inmates- is located in the area adjacent to the flood zone.
The blue area is the one that will be flooded according to the Ministry of Environment by 2100 in the event of extreme events. Figures indicate the number of people living in each census tract.
The rise in sea level is a progressive phenomenon given the current climate projections, where mitigation actions are insufficient.

"This gradual phenomenon of sea level rise should be accompanied by public policy planning aimed at moving the population, generating housing policies for people who will be left in a situation of flooding or at risk of suffering it, and also moving public services," stated PNUD's sociologist.

Marrero added that it is also necessary to take into account the population's perception of risk and their willingness to move: "Many times people do not want to move because they are rooted in the places where they live."

The Santiago Vázquez prison -with a population of around 3,500 inmates- is also located near the floodplain.
Healthcare Centers
Although the flood line predicted by the studies of the Ministry of the Environment will not reach the Santiago Vázquez polyclinic, the population around it will have difficulty accessing the clinic during extreme events.
Another 10 public healthcare centers are located within 300 meters of areas that will be flooded.

Representation of healthcare centers affected by the simulated flood scenario. Healthcare Center Data: https://mapas.mides.gub.uy
Although the flood line predicted by the studies of the Ministry of the Environment will not reach the Santiago Vázquez polyclinic, the population around it will have difficulty accessing the clinic during extreme events.


Another 10 public healthcare centers are located within 300 meters of areas that will be flooded.
Representation of the healthcare centers affected by the simulated flood scenario. Healthcare Center Data: https://mapas.mides.gub.uy
Education Centers
Part of the population will also be unable to access nursery school 256 (where, according to figures from ANEP's Educational Monitor, 119 children attend), school 116 (469 children) and the CAIF center (84 early childhood children) in Santiago Vázquez.
At the other end of the city, in Punta Gorda, two schools
and a nursery school will be in the flood zone: the building
where Mahatma Gandhi (222 boys and girls) and Benito Juarez (226 boys and girls) public schools operate, and nursery school 282 (140 boys and girls).
A total of 43 public schools and 11 CAIFs are located
within 300 meters of the future flood zones.

Source on Education Centers: https://intgis.montevideo.gub.uy/
Part of the population will also be unable to access nursery school 256 (where, according to figures from ANEP's Educational Monitor, 119 children attend), school 116 (469 children) and the CAIF center (84 early childhood children) in Santiago Vázquez.

At the other end of the city, in Punta Gorda, two schools and a nursery school will be in the flood zone: the building where Mahatma Gandhi (222 boys and girls) and Benito Juarez (226 boys and girls) public schools operate, and nursery school 282 (140 boys and girls).

A total of 43 public schools and 11 CAIFs are located within 300 meters of the future flood zones.
A total of 43 public schools and 11 CAIFs are located within 300 meters of the future flood zones.

Source on Education Centers:
intgis.montevideo.gub.uy
Foto frontal del Jardín de Infantes 256 de Santiago Vázquez. La institución está pintada blanca, es moderna, tiene techo a dos aguas y rampa de acceso. Está rodeada de pasto y árboles, y al frente tiene una calle de adoquines.
Nursery School 256. Santiago Vázquez. Archive photo.
In the best scenario, 11,572 schoolchildren could see their education center or the streets leading to it affected. In the most pessimistic scenario, the number of children rises to 17,635, according to ANEP's Education Monitor 2022 of the different subsystems.
Why does the most pessimistic scenario have a chance of becoming real?
The governments of 194 countries agreed in 2015 in Paris to take urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, they aim to ensure that by the end of the century the global average temperature does not rise by more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

However, the measures taken so far have been insufficient. With the current actions committed to in 2021, a temperature increase of 2.8°C is projected by the end of the century, according to the United Nations Environment Programme's Emissions Gap Report 2022.


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Foto de la playa de Montevideo. El Río de la Plata creció y el agua llega hasta la garita de los guardavidas.
Photo: Matilde Campodónico
Infrastructure
Several of the relevant infrastructures of the city and the country are located in floodable zones. Many of them were built during the 19th century, such as the port or the drainage system, and the 20th century, such as the Rambla and the oil refinery.

In this century, governments have continued to invest in works considered key and have allowed and encouraged the construction of housing in areas that are at risk of flooding, despite the fact that they have information -the public data used in this study- on the impact of climate change.

Beaches
The 19 beaches to the east and west of Montevideo will be compromised by flooding and erosion caused by climate change and changes in beach sedimentation that prevent the natural recovery of this coastal environment.

"We will no longer have beaches," said oceanographer Mónica Gómez, coordinator of the National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone of the Ministry of the Environment, during a public presentation of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan in August. Along the entire Uruguayan coast "between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares of beaches will be lost and the greatest erosion will be in the Department of Rocha."

An essential part of the social and economic life of the city happens on the beaches. At a country level, 59% of national tourism develops around beaches, according to the report of the Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone in the Face of Climate Variability and Change.

Marcomini, a geologist from the University of Buenos Aires, explained that human action has as much or more influence on the disappearance of beaches than sea level rise. "When the sea level rises and there is sand saturation -and let's assume that it is not a coast like Montevideo's where everything is builtthe beach will move towards the continent. It will not be a beach problem, but a problem of coastal retreat. It is not that
there will be no beach left, there will be one but the buildings on the waterfront will probably suffer erosion." However, "if the sea level does not rise and they continue to remove sand and foresting, the beach will continue to recede," Marcomini explained. "And it is going to be worse as that beach is going to degrade because it has no sand to nourish itself. If we boost the two phenomena -sea level rise and, on top of that, further sand removal- then the beach will indeed disappear."

Marcomini remarked that other phenomena need to be considered besides the rise in sea level: "If we take away nourishment from the coastal system because we build dams on the rivers, or we use the sand from the rivers for construction -it happens a lot in Uruguay-, that sand, which would normally go back to the beach, will not be getting there. We are taking away the 'food'. If the sea level rises and there is no sand, then we won't have any more beach, but if the sea level rises and there is sand, the beach recedes."

The researcher explained that in Montevideo "there are well-preserved beaches and others where the environment is already quite degraded. There are some that are not natural, although they may look like they are. The beaches are artificially replenished with sand, which has changed the ecology of the system and the natural balance. At the ecological level there is not much diversity in these environments. The most natural habitat is limited to the intertidal and sub-tidal sector."

Marcomini pointed out that "Montevideo's beach should not recede if it continues to be nourished, repopulated and sand continues to arrive. We are talking about a very small variation in sea level, not an extreme one. If it continues to rise, it will probably become one more cause. A wall is put up, the coast is reinforced, and the coast remains where it is."

She concluded that, "the artificial re-population -sand replenishment- of the beach and the wind barriers for the reconstruction of dunes are works that are working well. We must continue to preserve and try not to build buildings on the waterfront."
Blue line: current coastline.
White line: Simulated coastline for an extreme flood climate scenario.
The Rambla
Several sections of the Rambla along the port, La Teja, Capurro, El Cerro, Carrasco and, to a lesser extent, sections of Punta Gorda, Malvín and Pocitos are in flood zones. According to the projections, should no action be taken, this main transportation artery will compromise the mobility of a significant part of the population.

In recent years there have been extreme events that caused waves to reach Rambla Sur and breach part of the infrastructure. This phenomenon occurs especially when it rains and strong winds blow from the southeast.
Foto de la rambla de Montevideo. En un día nublado, se ve cómo las olas pasan la cota y desbordan hacia la rambla.
Photo: Matilde Campodónico
The waves reach the Rambla when they are more than three meters high. The water surpasses the 3-meter level of the Rambla because the base has risen 11 centimeters, according to specialists.

The Rambla is a 24-kilometer avenue that connects the coastal neighborhoods of Montevideo's central and eastern zones, from Ciudad Vieja to Carrasco, and continues towards Canelones. Its construction began in 1923 in response to the need to improve access to outlying neighborhoods, meet the growing use of automobiles, promote tourism and generate open and public spaces for the population to enjoy leisure time. It was inaugurated in 1935.
Aerial view of the beaches of Santa Ana and Patricio during the works of drainage and filling for the construction of Rambla Sur. Year 1930. Montevideo Photography Center.
Housing
Seventy-two percent of Uruguay's buildings are on the coastal zone. "Half of all coastal buildings will be affected by the end of the 21st century," said Gómez, coordinator of the National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone, during a public presentation delivered by the Ministry. "In any of the scenarios, it is proven that the greatest damages are suffered by residential assets, which represent 50% of the damages considering all built assets."

As a State policy, national governments promote housing projects, many of them in coastal areas through tax exemptions. For example, the Nostrum Bay towers, which have 26 floors and 194 apartments, and Nostrum Central, a tower soon to be inaugurated, having 13 floors and 136 apartments. Both were designed by architects Carlos Ott and Carlos Ponce de León.

These projects are framed within the Declaration of National Interest Act. Improvements in the conditions of access to social housing.

This kind of projects promoted by the government increase the population in the neighborhoods that will be mostly impacted by the sea level rise.
Imagen con posible proyección en 3D en donde se aprecian las nuevas torres edificadas cerca del Río de la Plata.
Altius Group
The image shows the Nostrum Bay building in red to the left, and the Nostrum Central tower to the right.
Drainage system
The capacity of the city's drainage system was frequently exceeded in several episodes of heavy rains. In 2022 the rains caused Arroyo Malvín to swell, flooding homes on Concepción del Uruguay Street where the old creek was channeled.

In Malvín neighborhood, the streets were flooded when two phenomena were combined: an extreme event -the southeast wind that caused the Río de la Plata to overflow, not allowing the drains and micro-basins to discharge-, combined with heavy rainfalls that caused Arroyo Malvín to also overflow, which prevented the discharge of the neighborhood's storm drains. However, this situation is not due to climate change but to the climatic variability associated with the micro-basins.

"Montevideo was the first city in Latin America to create a water and sanitation system," states a report issued by the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB. "Its construction began in 1886, shortly after cities like London and New York implemented such systems. Over the years, the population multiplied and with it the demand for water grew, but the pipes were never renewed. Eventually, the infrastructure proved to be insufficient."

In 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2020 and 2022 heavy rains flooded several points of the city, such as the neighborhood of La Aguada, in front of the former AFE Central Railway Station, Jacinto Vera at the intersection of Bulevar Artigas and Garibaldi, La Comercial, and several of the lower areas of Bulevar José Batlle y Ordoñez.

In 2011 the national and local government began works to expand the capacity of the drainage network: huge subway tanks of millions of liters were built to capture excess water, as buffers, and prevent flooding of the streets. The tanks were financed with a $25 million loan from the IDB. By 2022, 5 tanks had been built.
What is the difference between
climate variability and climate
change?
The World Meteorological Organization specifies that the concept of "climate variability" is used to describe a series of weather conditions that, when averaged, define the "climate" of a region. The inhabitants of the region are aware of this variability and it is a predictable situation.

On the other hand, sometimes a phenomenon or a series of phenomena never experienced before occurs. If such phenomena do not recur in the next 30 years, that year will retrospectively be considered exceptional. Only a persistent series of rare events studied in the context of regional climate parameters can suggest that climate change has occurred.

The United Nations defines climate change as "a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods of time."
La Teja Refinery
The Ministry of the Environment projects that the La Teja Refinery area will be affected by water.

In addition, Minister Adrián Peña stated that the transformation of the energy matrix towards electricity generated from renewable sources for transportation and industry will allow the refinery plant to be closed by 2035.

The Ancap refinery is located in La Teja neighborhood, on the coast. It is the only oil refining plant in Uruguay. In 1937 it began to produce oil and derivatives. The refinery has a production capacity of 50,000 barrels per day.
Ports
The Montevideo port is Uruguay's main commercial harbor. It has recently received and implemented the largest expansion investments in its history.

In October 2022, UPM, one of Uruguay's main pulp producers, inaugurated its own port terminal there. With an investment of US$ 280 million, the work will be completed by the construction of a train that will connect the port with the plant located 300 kilometers away in the department of Durazno. The cost of the train, to be paid by the Uruguayan government, is 1,000 million dollars.

Another significant work will begin in March 2023. The Cuenca del Plata Terminal's container yard will be enlarged -of which 80% is owned by Belgian company Katoen Natie and 20% by the Uruguayan State- with an investment of 550 million dollars, the largest in the history of the Port of Montevideo.

However, according to the projections of the Ministry of the Environment, the flooding of the Río de la Plata would render this investment useless.
The Buceo and Punta Carretas marinas (intended to attract high-end tourism at a cost of US$ 17 million) would also be affected.
Public information from the Ministry of the Environment anticipates the effects of climate change in Uruguay if current trends in the consumption of fossil fuels continue and allows to think about appropriate measures to prevent or minimize the damage it may cause to society. This report is a tool that shows the potential damage if adaptation strategies are not developed at all levels of the Administration.

In April 2022, this agency publicly presented the National Adaptation Plan for the Coastal Zone, which contains 41 specific adaptation measures.

Marrero, a member of the Climate Change Directorate, pointed out that the Ministry has carried out a work plan but faces "great difficulties to access financing." The specialist pointed out that this is not a problem exclusive to Uruguay: "The first topic of discussion, the hardest and most forceful at COP27, was financing adaptation in underdeveloped countries."

"The Ministry of the Environment has developed the instruments, the roadmap to be followed, the progress made with departmental governments, the insistence and conviction that international funds must be accessed in order to generate these infrastructure mechanisms and the efforts to make this feasible."
This special report was drawn within the framework of the Open Climate Data Contest organized by the Ministry of the Environment, Agesic, Open Data Charter and the IDB.

To produce this report, public open databases of the Uruguayan State were used and new databases were created and made available to the public in open format for reuse in Amenaza Roboto's GitHub library.

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