Islands of Seattle

Welcome to the Anthropocene! Behold, the Seattle Archipelago–a future history of the city of Seattle.

20140220IslandsOfSeattle_Streets_web240′ is about the most severe sea level rise being talked about, and that’s only if all the world’s ice sheets melted. This is the extreme scenario. I don’t even know if researchers are seriously discussing this as a possibility. If it is, it’s a long way off.

When I first showed this map to people, the general reaction was horror. For me, it’s been more like detached fascination. If there are any humans left, what kind of society will be here–hunter/gatherer or godlike technology–dirt-floored huts or gleaming cities–The Road or Blade Runner or Metropolis.

I think the islands will be inhabited by pirates–tribes of Queen Ann islanders and Capitol Hill islanders living in shaky détente, with occasional forays on each others’ territories. The tribes of the Archipelago of Bainbridge or the Kirkland Peninsula will make weekend raids into the Seattle Archipelago, despoiling these fair island villages. So really, nothing much will have changed.

See my post on the Whole U website.

h/t Burrito Justice and Brian Stokle for the inspiration and encouragement.

You can soon buy these maps!

The maps are no longer available on Zazzle, but they will be available through a new and improved vendor. Check back soon!


With street overlay


Without streets

Preview details of map:


See the original versions of this map here.


22 thoughts on “Islands of Seattle

  1. Pretty awesome implementation on a simple concept, well done.

    Is it possible to know what bridges or man-made objects would remain above sea level at 240′? I wonder if there would be an easy way to simulate this with Google Maps/Earth’s buildings that have been modeled in Google Sketchup. It looks like you’ve got gray marks around downtown and U-district so maybe you already calculated all of this?

    Wikipedia says Aurora Bridge is only 167ft high (not sure how high Lake Union is above sea level?), and I-5 Ship Canal bridge is 182 feet, and Ballard locks have a 20-22 ft rise, so both of them would be covered. Next ones I would look at would be buildings in downtown – Looks like all of the buildings on that list would be tall enough. Without going through and checking the sea level at the base of the building I’m guessing there’s plenty of other ones downtown.

    • If you look closely, there are darker blue polygons in the downtown, U-District and Lake City areas–these are the buildings that have a height of > 240′. These polygons are all based on ~10-year-old city of Seattle data, so any newer towers won’t be shown.

      When I mapped the buildings above 240′ that had a base in the water, each island had a ring of buildings around them. I made the assumption that most of these are wood-framed residential structures, so I removed most of them to make a cleaner map.

      I didn’t look at any of the bridges specifically, but it sounds like both Aurora and I-5 would be sticking above the water.

      • Awesome, love that you pulled that in. Agreed that all of the wood-framed single family homes right at ~240′ would probably get demolished pretty quickly and should be removed from the map.

        Clarifying my comment above, I think I-5 would be at ~203′ and Aurora would be at ~188′ so both would be underwater.

  2. I’d love to see how this affects the Olympic Peninsula, and actually all of Western WA. Especially along Hood Canal and the Straight of Juan de Fuca would be really interesting.

  3. I’m super interested in how you worked this data. I want to do something similar, but looking back 10,000 years to “lower” the sea level to see what the coasts (globally) looked like before the Ice Age began to melt. Is that something your methodology would allow me to follow to create? Thanks for your ideas for this!

    • Geoff-

      I generated topo lines from LiDAR data– . After that, it’s all about isolating the topo lines you want to work with, and shading the resulting polygons. I believe LiDAR penetrates water, so you could extract bathymetry from that, otherwise, you might be able to get bathymetry from WADNR if you’re looking at Washington State. I don’t know what your knowledge of GIS is, but you could do this in either ArcGIS ($$$ unless you’re a student), or QGIS (free!).

      • Thanks Jeff! I know enough to get started with that clue. I’ll definitely let you know if I actually get to make progress on this. Cheers!

      • Good luck! Also, if you’re affiliated with UW, check out the WAGDA site for a variety of spatial data. Let me know if you have more questions.

  4. WHOA, scary f_ _ _ ing stuff!!! It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a houseboat–if not for me, for the [future] grand kids!

  5. I live slightly farther North than any maps shows …would love to see this extended to just north of the Sno-King county line.
    I love maps and I love seeing this. Thanks for putting it together!

  6. This is amazing. I live in Skyway and I have a kayak, so I guess I’ll be set . . . except for the pirates. Do you have images of what this same area would look like at +120′ or +60′? These are much more likely to occur within the lifespan of people born this year, I’m sorry to say.

    • Nora, it was always my intention to look beyond what the current generations would experience.

      Other than the low-res renderings that went into the animation, this is the only shareable graphic I have at this point. I’m not sure when I’ll be revisiting the Seattle maps.

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