Scientists have discovered that many low-lying islands in the Pacific are growing and not sinking.
Islands in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia are among those that have grown, largely due to coral debris, land reclamation and sediment.
For some time now, scientists have believed that the islands may be sinking as a result of rising sea levels, caused by climate change. However, this finding makes this theory baseless and has surprised many.
“Eighty per cent of the islands we’ve looked at have either remained about the same or, in fact, gotten larger,” he says. “Some of those islands have gotten dramatically larger, by 20 percent or 30 percent. We’ve now got evidence the physical foundations of these islands will still be there in 100 years,” ABC Science quoted Auckland University’s Associate Professor Paul Kench, a member of the team of scientists, as saying.
Kench says the growth of the islands can keep pace with rising sea levels. “The reason for this is these islands are so low lying that in extreme events waves crash straight over the top of them,” he says. “In doing that, they transport sediment from the beach or adjacent reef platform and they throw it onto the top of the island.”
However, Kench says this does not mean climate change does not pose dangers. “The land may still be there but will they still be able to support human habitation?” he asks.
Naomi Thirobaux, from Kiribati, has studied the shape of Pacific islands for her PhD and says no one should be lulled into thinking erosion and inundation is not taking its toll and displacing people from their land.
Adelaide University climate scientist Professor Barry Brook said, “Sea levels are obviously rising — I think in the short term [the study] suggests that there’s maybe more time to do something about the problem than we’d first anticipated.
“But the key problem is that sea level rise is likely to accelerate much beyond what we’ve seen in the 20th century.” The findings are published in the journal Global and Planetary Change.