Rising tides: islands lost to the sea

Micronesia (above), the Solomon Islands and other low-lying Pacific areas are all at risk from rising sea levels, but understanding to what varying degrees is going to be vital to their long-term futures Micronesia (above), the Solomon Islands and other low-lying Pacific areas are all at risk from rising sea levels, but understanding to what varying degrees is going to be vital to their long-term futures Photosounds
07 Nov
2017
Numerous low-lying Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas

At first it was anecdotal evidence. Locals from Pohnpei, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, told researchers about two islands – Nahlapenlohd and Kepidau en Pehleng – that had disappeared beneath the waves in living memory. Taking to the skies, Patrick Nunn, a climatologist from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, revealed that another six uninhabited islands have been submerged since 2007.

The findings are part of a worrying trend emerging from Pacific island nations. Last year, satellite imagery of the Solomon Islands showed that five of its reef islands had vanished since the mid-20th century. While none of those were inhabited, a further six had lost large portions of land, forcing the relocation of two villages.

‘At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades, or are currently experiencing severe erosion,’ says Simon Albert, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland.

Both aerial surveys suggest that the low-lying islands in Micronesia and the Solomon Islands are providing a glimpse into the future for low-lying Pacific regions, which experience seven to 12 millimetres of sea level rise per year – well above the global average of three millimetres.

However, Albert stresses that the island losses are not solely being caused by climate change – wave energy and climatic cycles are playing a role too. Specifically, trade winds spurred by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-lived El Nino-like pattern of climate variability, are helping to push up sea levels, while increasing wave energy is making some islands more at-risk than others. ‘Twelve of the islands studied in the Solomons demonstrated little noticeable change in shorelines, despite being subject to the same sea-level rise,’ he explains. Islands exposed to higher wave energy fared much worse.

Similarly, Nunn observed that the inhabited Micronesian island of Pohnpei showed ‘fewer effects than might be expected from recent sea level rise’, most likely because it is protected from waves by a fringe of mangrove forests.

Nunn believes that further understanding of specific conditions such as mangroves, sediment dynamics and wave energy will be an essential part of island resilience in the decades to come

This was published in the November 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Overfishing and climate change are edging seabirds such as the…

Oceans

East African countries are sharing shipping data in order to…

Wildlife

How many elephants can you see? How many orang-utans are…

Climate

The ocean floor is being deformed under the weight of…

Climate

Progress on halting warming has not been great throughout 2017.…

Oceans

Coral bleaching is widespread around the globe and as it…

Climate

Wales is the second best recycler in the world

Climate

A series of worrying reports by the Global Carbon Project…

Wildlife

While it was the impact on civilian populations that generated…

Oceans

For Sylvia Earle there is one over-riding threat to humanity…

Geophoto

Iceland is a sparsely populated country with one of the…

Wildlife

Baltic seals and fish-eating bird populations are increasing and could…

Oceans

The UN has committed to completely stopping plastic waste from…

Wildlife

The world’s most endangered marine mammal has just been thrown…

Climate

Sixty-two of the natural World Heritage Sites are now at…

Oceans

In February 2015, maritime lawyer and cold water swimmer Lewis…

Climate

Water, water may be everywhere, but as Marco Magrini discovers,…

Energy

A deeper look at Scotland’s recent decision to ban the…

Climate

The discovery of increasing levels of ozone-depleting compounds being emitted…

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…