High-rise cemeteries are now a thing

Not exactly space-efficient. Image: Andrew Stephen Damick.

Not to be morbid about it, but there are currently around 100 billion dead people on this planet. In our ever-denser settlements, we’re struggling to find space to house the swelling hordes of the living, let alone the dead. Researchers have found that, in the US alone, land the size of Las Vegas will be needed to bury those who’ll die between 2020 and 2042.

So architects and cemetery experts (yes, that is a job) have come up with a solution: graves in the sky.

Asia is currently ahead of the pack on this one. In many Asian cultures, there’s already a tradition of burying the dead in multi-storey pagodas. That seems to have influenced the design of the high-rise cemetery in Tainan, Taiwan. It goes by the ironic name of the Lung Yen Life Service:

Image: Highrise.

A niche in the wall costs around $1,000 (more, if you want a specific prime spot near your relatives). Urns of the deceased’s ashes and a photo are kept behind a small circular window.

Image: Highrise.

Currently, the tallest sky cemetery is the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica III, a 32 storey highrise in Santos, Brazil:

Image: Memoril Necrópole Ecumênica III.

In case you get bored of all the graves, the building also contains a restaurant, a chapel, a lagoon (?!) and a peacock garden (apparently, it’s become quite the tourist attraction). Grave spots in the tower are in demand, perhaps because, as this article in the Hindustan Times notes, those buried in the top floor would be “108 metres closer to heaven than a typical underground grave”.

Lately, futuristic plans for even taller skyscraper cemeteries have also emerged. Last year, Martin McSherry, a student in Oslo presented this concept for this virtual cemetery, in which slots in the structure would gradually be filled with coffins, as a solution to Norway’s cemetery-space problem:

Image: Martin McSherry.

The country’s been struggling against a shortage of space since its previous solution, recycling graves after two years, stopped working, for the slightly gruesome reason that new plastic burial wrapping prevented bodies from decomposing fast enough.

McSherry’s suggestion was controversial, however, not least because the proposed tower would have been the city’s tallest building. The dead may outnumber the living, but letting them remind us of their existence by towering over the city at all times may be a bit much. There are currently no plans to put the designs into practice.

The Moksha tower, currently under construction in Mumbai, may be the most futuristic of the lot. It’ll be the world’s tallest cemetery, and will feature gardens in both the structure’s internal and external walls.

Image:Fu & Lin.

Yalin Fu and Ihsuan Lin, the tower’s designers, took into account Mumbai’s four major religions in their designs. As a result, the tower will allow for garden burials, cremations, river burials and a “tower of silence”, where bodies are exposed to weather and scavenging birds (part of Parsi Zoroastrian burial rites).

Even with the extra space offered by vertical cemeteries, however, the tower’s designers are adamant that bodies will only reside there for 5-10 years, as they made clear in a statement accompanying their designs. "Mumbai's density leaves little room for the living, let alone for the dead."


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.