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Coastal Geography Newsletter #1

Within the dissemination actions of the Life-Saline Project, we have created the Coastal Geography Newsletter. In this section you will find news and content related to the rise in sea level due to the effect of Climate Change and other issues related to Coastal Geography. Today we will talk about what could be the first countries with refugees due to sea level rise.

Refugees due to Climate Change in the Pacific

Most of the world’s population lives just a few kilometres from the coast, so it seems normal that more and more of us are hearing about climate refugees. Greenhouse gas emissions from Pacific countries account for only 0.006 per cent of the planet’s greenhouse gases. However, its population is the most exposed to Climate Change. Here we see some examples of countries in Oceania, where the effect of rising sea levels is becoming a problem.

Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a small country located in Oceania. It is made up of a volcanic archipelago located almost a thousand kilometres north of Australia. With only 12.189 km2 it is one of the smallest countries of the world and due to the rise of the sea level, by effect of the Climate Change, soon it will be even more. Lataw, is a small village in the north of the country that in 2004 was classified by the United Nations as the first community of climate refugees in history. The population has had to be moved several hundred meters inland. These islands are sinking into the ocean at a rate of approximately one centimeter per year. The problem of the rise of the ocean is aggravated because the tectonic plate of the Pacific, which sinks, dragging the islands located above, which implies a rise in sea level twice as expected. Vanuatu is considering suing fossil fuel companies that continue to contribute to Climate Change. Coastal Risk Vanuatu 2100 is a project that lets the public know what the country’s coastline will look like 80 years from now. By means of a cartographic tool you can see the planned coastal floods.

Funafuti, Tuvalu. Imagen: NASA

Kiribati

The Republic of Kiribati is located to the northwest of Australia, composed by 33 atolls with a total surface of 811 km2 . In addition to sinking, the country faces related challenges such as scarcity and deterioration of water resources. To this end, the government plans to negotiate the purchase of an area of Viti Levu in Fiji, a country located more than two thousand kilometers from the archipelago.

Palau

Thomas Remengesau is the president of Palau, a country made up of more than 400 islands, but of only 459 km2 of extension he recognized that in the last years…the tide reached up to the garden of his house! One of the greatest threats of Climate Change on Palau is the risk to its corals and the great diversity of marine habitat types that it possesses despite having a relatively small area.

Solomon Islands

The country is made up of two archipelagos with almost a thousand islands. The problem of sea level rise in the Solomon Islands is so obvious that the country has already lost several islands and others are about to do so. In addition, the population of two of the islands affected by the advance of the sea had to be evacuated.

Kingdom of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga has 36 inhabited islands out of 177. Despite the surprise of having the island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, formed in 2015 from the ashes of a volcano (this is a topic we will talk about another day), Tonga faces the salinization of its scarce drinking water by marine intrusions.

Tongatapu, Kingdom of Tonga. Image ESA.

Nauru

Instruments mounted on satellites and tide gauges are used to measure sea level. Satellite data indicate that sea level has risen near Nauru by about 5 mm per year since 1993. This is higher than the world average of 2.8-3.6 mm per year. This higher rate of increase may be related to natural fluctuations such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon.

Marshall Islands

This group of islands depended on the United States until 1990. Another of the nations is the risk of being submerged by the increase in the oceanic level due to Climate Change and one of the most seriously considering the abandonment of its islands, whose roof is 10 m at a point on Lipiek atoll and the average height of the islands is barely over 2 m. This group of islands is dependent on the United States until 1990. Perhaps the Marshall Islands is the country in the world most in danger of disappearing. In the next few years the country will have to decide whether to gain the lost land by dredging, which would mean a loss of its ecosystems, or whether to leave the country definitively.

Federated States of Micronesia

It has an area of 702 km2 that extends along 2,600,000 km². The set of islands has a coastline of more than 6,000 km close to which most of the population resides. The sea level in the area rises 10 millimeters per year, more than three times the world average, which in addition to generating stronger tides and coastal erosion, endangers the salinization of drinking water. Aware of the vulnerability of its territory, in 2013 the government approved the Climate Change Law, which requires climate adaptation to be integrated into all public sector policies and action plans.

We can end with a look at the average global evolution of sea level in the 20th and 21st centuries (Devitt al at., 2012). The red curve is based on tide gauge measurements, while the black curve is the altimetric register (extended in the period 1993-2009). Projections for the 21st century are also shown.

Evolution of the global mean sea level (Devitt et al., 2012)

Albert, S., Leon, J.X., Grinham, A.R., Church, J.A., Gibbes, B.R., & Woodroffe, C.D. (2016). Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters, 11(5), paper 054011.

Cameron Devitt, S.E., J. R. Seavey, S. Claytor,  T. Hoctor, M. Main,  O. Mbuya, R. Noss, C. Rainyn.  2012: Florida Biodiversity Under a Changing Climate, Florida Climate Task Force.

Colin, P.L. 2018. Ocean warming and the reefs of Palau. Oceanography 31(2):126–135.

Fletcher, C. (2009). Sea level by the end of the 21 st century: A review. Shore and Beach, 77(4): 4-12.

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