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A paper published in the journal Nature Communications projects that, based on enhanced digital elevation models (DEMs) applied to places not currently mapped with light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology, worldwide sea level rise will be more severe than previously anticipated. The authors used neural networks to enhance the data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) DEM, which is used to assess sea level risks in parts of the world that have not been mapped by LIDAR. Under these new models, which triple current vulnerability estimates, 150 million people are now projected to be residing below a high tide line by 2050.

Notably, the research did not lead to revised projections for the United States, Australia, and some European countries. This is because these nations are already mapped with LIDAR-based high-resolution DEMs, providing a level of detail that researchers sought to emulate by enhancing the current SRTM DEM data.