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Everybody knows: Tuvalu and other small Pacific Islands are disappearing due to climate change

02 Nov 2022 | Science Notes

“Rising sea levels are threatening this Pacific paradise” warned CNN in 2019. Two years later Tuvalu foreign minister became an internet sensation by addressing the UN COP26 summit while knee-deep in water. “Residents are pleading for help”, declared USA Today in November 2021, because their island home was sinking. With climate change pushing them under Tuvalu was reaching out for help from New Zealand and other rich neighbours. And don’t think these warnings are new. Back in 2005 the Guardian warned “Tuvalu is likely to be the first state in the world to be submerged by rising water levels. According to scientific estimates, the islands will be severely flooded within the next 15-20 years, and by the end of the century, the islands will have disappeared from sight altogether.” Now guess which alarmist slogan is all wet.

If you search for news online about Tuvalu’s sinking problem you’ll notice, among the many alarmist stories, occasional links to articles that seem to go off script. As in “‘Sinking’ Pacific nation is getting bigger: study.” The reason that a few news articles suggest Tuvalu and the Maldives (and yes, we do know they are in the Indian Ocean) and all the rest might be growing is that for many years the experts have been reporting data showing that they are growing. Here are a few examples:

  • Webb and Kench (2010) The dynamic response of reef islands to sea-level rise: Evidence from multi-decadal analysis of island change in the Central Pacific
  • Kench et al. (2015) Coral islands defy sea-level rise over the past century: Records from a central Pacific atoll
  • Kench et al. (2018) Patterns of island change and persistence offer alternate adaptation pathways for atoll nations
  • Ford et al. (2020) Active Sediment Generation on Coral Reef Flats Contributes to Recent Reef Island Expansion
  • Masselink et al. (2020) Coral reef islands can accrete vertically in response to sea level rise
  • Sengupta et al. (2021) Multi-decadal planform changes on coral reef islands from atolls and mid-ocean reef platforms of the equatorial Pacific Ocean: Gilbert Islands, Republic of Kiribati
  • Kench et al. (2022) Sustained coral reef growth in the critical wave dissipation zone of a Maldivian atoll

Notice the research goes back many years and continues to the present. So it’s not news among scientists that the Pacific coral atolls like Tuvalu aren’t sinking, and that even with local sea level rise they are growing and getting larger. But journalists and politicians keep repeating the claim that they’re disappearing, and no one bothers to check.

And why should they bother checking? After all, everybody knows the Pacific Islands are sinking due to climate change.

4 comments on “Everybody knows: Tuvalu and other small Pacific Islands are disappearing due to climate change”

  1. I remember a similar sort of Armageddon-ish statement being raised about the Maldives. I cannot instance it immediately - I don't think instant satisfaction on Google was around then, but Around the end-70's mid-80's when all the Global Warming thing started, I distinctly remember that by 203, the whole island group would be under water. In fact the wife and I decided to go there for a holiday because it might not be there in the future!

  2. The mechanics of coral growth, beaches, mangroves, and storms is such that islands having topography more than about 3 metres above high tide will tend to GROW as sediment is washed up on the beach during storms, more than is washed away….

  3. Thank you Mike and Doug. Why can't CDN for once speak plain English that can be easily passed on by learners like me to those learning from me? I need something that starts 'here are the details (or telling examples) apropos sea level rise since ... and expected by 2100.'
    Thank you for the site folks. I'm passing it around. And thanks for the You Tube spot Dr Robson.

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