KHUN SAMUT CHIN, Thailand - At Bangkok's watery gates, Buddhist monks cling to a shrinking spit of land around their temple as they wage war against the relentlessly rising sea.
During the monsoons at high tide, waves hurdle the breakwater of concrete pillars and the inner rock wall around the temple on a promontory in the Gulf of Thailand. Jutting above the water line just ahead are remnants of a village that has already slipped beneath the sea.
Experts say these waters, aided by sinking land, threaten to submerge Thailand's sprawling capital of more than 10 million people within this century. Bangkok is one of 13 of the world's largest 20 cities at risk of being swamped as sea levels rise in coming decades, according to warnings at the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change held here.
'This is what the future will look like in many places around the world,' says Lisa Schipper, an American researcher on global warming, while visiting the temple. 'Here is a living study in environmental change.'
The loss of Bangkok would destroy the country's economic engine and a major hub for regional tourism.
"If the heart of Thailand is under water everything will stop," says Smith Dharmasaroja, chair of the government's Committee of National Disaster Warning Administration. 'We don't have time to move our capital in the next 15-20 years. We have to protect our heart now, and it's almost too late.'
The arithmetic gives Bangkok little cause for optimism.
The still expanding megapolis rests about 31⁄2 to 5 feet above the nearby gulf, although some areas already lie below sea level. The gulf's waters have been rising by about a tenth of an inch a year, about the same as the world average, says Anond Snidvongs, a leading scientist in the field.
SideBar: Major cities across the world at risk
The Associated Press
BANGKOK, Thailand - Cities around the world are facing the danger of rising seas and other disasters related to climate change.
Of the 33 cities predicted to have at least 8 million people by 2015, at least 21 are highly vulnerable, says the Worldwatch Institute.
They include Dhaka in Bangladesh; Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro; Shanghai and Tianjin in China; Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt; Mumbai and Kolkata in India; Jakarta in Indonesia; Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe in Japan; Lagos in Nigeria; Karachi in Pakistan; Bangkok in Thailand, and New York and Los Angeles in the United States, according to studies by the United Nations and others.
More than one-tenth of the world's population, or 643 million people, live in low-lying areas at risk from climate change, say U.S. and European experts. Most imperiled, in descending order, are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the U.S., Thailand and the Philippines.