Islands-atolls could become uninhabitable within decades. A group of American scientists declared such an information. Because of the climate change and lack of fresh water, most of the atolls from the Maldives to Hawaii will be abandoned by the middle of the century.
In the new study, published in Science Advances, the scientists predict that as sea levels rise, thousands of islands will be afflicted by frequent flooding and damage to infrastructure.
Which islands are in danger?
The researchers looked specifically at a case study from the Marshall Islands. This small island country consists of 29 atolls that are already feeling the harmful effects of climate change.
However, the authors warned that their findings also apply to islands all over the world including the Maldives, Seychelles and parts of Hawaii – meaning hundreds of thousands of people could be driven from their homes.
“The tipping point when potable groundwater on the majority of atoll islands will be unavailable is projected to be reached no later than the middle of the XXIst century,” said Dr Curt Storlazzi, a researcher at the US Geological Survey (USGS) and lead author of the new report.
Much earlier research of climate change in atolls was based on the rate of water rise. According to the climate data, sharp ecological changes did not put atolls in danger during the nearest century.
The scientists used current global greenhouse gas emission rates to predict future impacts of the changing climate. They found that when local sea level around the islands reaches one metre higher than present, at least half of each island will flood every year.
The analysis considered interactions between sea-level rise and wave dynamics over coral reefs. Such interactions will likely drive annual flooding events on atolls that will not only destroy infrastructure but contaminate island freshwater sources.
“The overwash events generally result in salty ocean water seeping into the ground and contaminating the freshwater aquifer,” explained Dr Stephen Gingerich, USGS hydrologist and co-author of the report.
“Rainfall later in the year is not enough to flush out the saltwater and refresh the island’s water supply before the next year’s storms arrive repeating the overwash events.”
“Such information is a key to assess multiple hazards and prioritise efforts to reduce risk and increase the resiliency of atoll islands’ communities around the globe,” said Dr Storlazzi.
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