Warming makes islands grow, not shrink, says study
Wellington: New research has cast doubt on warnings that rising sea levels caused by climate change are slowly inundating low-lying Pacific islands. Scientists have studied 27 lowlying Pacific islands, comparing aerial photos from 60 years ago with modern satellite images, according to the New Scientist.
Paul Kench of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Arthur Webb at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji found only four of the 27 islands declined in size despite an average rise in sea level of 12cm during the 60-year period. Half of the rest had remained the same size and the other half had increased in size. Kench said islands respond in different ways to climate change and rising seas. “...our results tell us there is no one model fits all kind of scenario,” Kench said. It was important to have a sensible debate over the impact of climate change, “rather than just saying the sea level’s going up and the islands must all disappear”. The study says some islands are growing because waves, currents and winds are pushing coral debris onto the shore.
Although this study only involved studying the land area, Kench’s previous research had shown cyclones and storms —which are predicted to become more frequent with climate change—also often helped raise the height of islands. “I’ve been in Tuvalu and know when cyclones hit Tuvalu, the waves go right across the island and in doing so, they are ripping up coral from the reef and beach and depositing them on the island surface. So there’s a natural mechanism of how these islands can rise vertically and in many cases can keep pace with sea level rise projected over the next century”, he said, adding seven islands in one of Tuvalu’s nine atolls grew in area by more than three percent on average since the 1950s, with one island expanding nearly 30%.