Despite Rising Seas, Tiny Island Nation Actually Growing

Study finds a surprising possible future for Tuvalu
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2018 1:39 PM CST
Despite Rising Seas, Tiny Island Nation Actually Growing
In this Oct. 13, 2011 photo, Funafuti, the main island of the nation state of Tuvalu, is seen from a Royal New Zealand airforce C130.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

Thanks to climate change, the world's oceans are rising. And they're rising twice as fast around Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific nation comprised of nine atolls and 101 reef islands totaling just 10 square miles of land mass. And yet—despite all common sense to the contrary—researchers found the island nation actually gained land between 1971 and 2014, according to a press release. A study published Friday in Nature Communications states around three-quarters of Tuvalu's islands gained land mass during that period. Overall, Tuvalu added over 180 acres of land, Stuff reports. "We tend to think of Pacific atolls as static landforms that will simply be inundated as sea levels rise, but there is growing evidence these islands are geologically dynamic and are constantly changing," study co-author Paul Kench says.

For the islands that grew, erosion caused by rising sea levels was more than offset by the sediment deposited by waves and storms. Kench says that while climate change is still a threat to Tuvalu, the takeaway is that residents shouldn't declare their homes doomed and move away. "The data on island change shows there is time (decades) to confront these challenges," the study states. Only 11 of Tuvalu's islands have a permanent human population, and only two of those islands are home to more than 600 people. Kench says the nation should use the study's data to figure out the islands most likely to grow in the future and move communities there. "On the basis of this research we project a markedly different trajectory for Tuvalu's islands over the next century than is commonly envisaged," he says. (Tuvalu recently made a list of the world's most surprising major exports.)

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