Politics

Islands Are Growing Not Shrinking


Atolls in the Pacific nations of Marshall Islands and Kiribati, as well as the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean, have grown up to 8 percent in size over the past six decades despite sea level rise


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A study of over 700 islands for decades shows that even though seas are rising faster than any time in the last million years, somehow no islands with people on are shrinking. This means there are no climate change refugees from any vanishing island. 1

The data, which covers 30 Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls reveals that no atoll lost land area and that 88.6% of islands were either stable or increased in area, while only 11.4% contracted. 2

As Joanne Nova succinctly noted, “The oceans were supposed to be swallowing up the islands. The models did not predict that the islands would grow in size.” 3

Coastal Land Area

Other research shows that climate change has unleashed rampant growth in mangrove forests. The trees are capturing coral detritus in large sand drifts, and locking it into whole new ecosystems that expand 5 to 6 meters a year. It’s just remarkable—some island have grown by several kilometers since 1928. The Howick Group of islands is north of Cairns Australia. Three scientific expeditions mapped out them in 1928 and in 1974, and again in 2021, and they have grown, especially in the last four decades. That makes them like most of the over 700 islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans that were mentioned above. 3

It turns out warmer more carbon rich world makes mangroves happy.

Words from researchers: “We’ve seen some really dramatic changes. Some of the things that we’ve seen are advancing fronts of forests. Forests that were mapped to small patches on the windward part of the reef flat are now occupying a much larger section of the reef patch. We’ve seen seen forests expanding by as much as 5 or 6m a year. That equates to several kilometers of extension. 1

Contrary to what would be expected with sea level rise rates, shorelines across the world are expanding rather than retreating into the sea. 4

The Atlantic coast of the United States has actually been expanding in recent decades after rapidly shrinking prior to the 1960s. Nor does is appear that there have been any detectable changes to its shoreline position since 1936. 5

Over half of the next 21st century growth for these islands occurred in a span of just four years: 2013 to 2017

An analysis of coastal land areas for 221 Pacific Indian Ocean islands revealed post-2000 net expansion (from 1007.60 km2 to 1069.35 km2, or 6.1%). Over half of the next 21st century growth for these islands occurred in a span of just four years: 2013 to 2017. 6

In Salerno City, southern Italy, between 2001 and 2020 the average regional net shoreline growth was +0.93 m/year. One area—Victorian Island—had a mean shoreline change rate of +6.24 m/year. 7

Scientists are the University of Auckland found atolls in the Pacific nations of Marshall Islands and Kiribati, as well as the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean, have grown up to 8 percent in size over the past six decades despite sea level rise. 8

References

  1. Joanne Nova, “Rising seas? Hundreds of Pacific Islands are growing, not shrinking,” joannenova.com.au, November 1, 2018
  2. Virginia K. E. Duvat, “A global assessment of atoll island platform changes over the past decades,” WIREs Climate Change, Volume 10, Issue 1, October 25, 2018
  3. Joanne Nova, “Stop that now! Climate change helps aggressive mangrove forests build bigger tropical islands,” joannenova.com.au, January 11, 2022
  4. Kenneth Richard, “Coastal land area is expanding so fast that ‘catastrophic’ sea level rise cannot keep up,” notrickszone.com, January 10, 2022
  5. Kenneth Richard, “New study: US east coast has grown +5 cm/year since 1960 after eroding -55 cm/year during 1830-1956,” notrickszone.com, June 13, 2019
  6. Andrew Holdaway et al., “Global scale changes in the area of atoll islands during the 21st century,” Anthropocene, 33, March 2021, 100282
  7. Vincenzo Amato et al., “Holocene paleographic evolution of an ancient port city of the central Mediterranean area: natural and anthropogenic
  8. modifications from Salerno city, southern Italy,” Geoarchaeology, 35, Issue 3, May/June 2020, 366-383

  9. Marian Faa,, “Hundreds of Pacific Islands are getting bigger despite global warming,” abc.net.au, Janaury 7, 2021


Jack Dini — Bio and Archives

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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