Five Solomon Islands have disappeared

Posted on May 10, 2016 12:00 am

In a study published in Environmental Research Letters, a team led by University of Queensland researchers have blamed changes in the global climate as what may have led to the loss of multiple islands and shorelines in the Solomon Islands, according to their study that examined the impact of sea level rise on the Pacific archipelago.The Solomon Islands, a nation made up of hundreds of islands and with an estimated population of about 640,000 and lies about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia.As Contador Harrison, I have been lucky to have visited some of the islands in 1990s but not those mentioned in the study. Back to the research, at least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six islands have been severely eroded. Researchers blame sea level rise, erosion and coastal flooding are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity from climate change.According to them, the islands lost to the sea range in size from one to five hectares and supported dense tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old.Nuatambu Island which is home to 25 families has lost more than half of its habitable area, with 11 houses washed into the sea since 2011.This study is scientific evidence that confirms the numerous multiple accounts from across the Pacific of the dramatic impacts of climate change on coastlines and people. “The sea has started to come inland, it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village there away from the sea,” Paurata tribe chief Sirilo Sutaroti told the researchers.

Past studies on the effects of sea level rise on islands and coasts have varied, with some pointing to reef islands’ resilience to rising waters or their propensity to grow in size in the face of submersion.Studying the Solomon Islands gave scientists a heightened sense of how rising waters could end up affecting coasts around the world. Researchers examined two distinct areas namely northern Isabel Province, whose islands had experienced the most loss, and the Roviana area in the Western Province, with an even mix of islands that either slightly grew or eroded. Determining why those two sections had developed differently is an important piece of the puzzle for fighting changing seas’ future impact on island communities, the researchers writes.¬†“Climate change induced sea-level rise is anticipated to be one of the greatest challenges for humanity over the coming century,” according to their study.While most of the examined sites were uninhabited or lightly populated, the Solomon Islands are home to the first Pacific Island provincial capital Taro Island’s Choiseul, home to around 1,000 residents at the time of its relocation. Choiseul’s migration also kicked off other communities’ decisions to embark on a migration. For the past 20 years, the Solomon Islands have been described as a hotspot for sea level rise as seas have risen at almost three-times the global average about 7-10 millimetres per year since 1993 according to available data. This higher local rate is partly the result of natural climate variability.

These higher rates were in line with what is expected across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century as a result of human led activities sea level rise.Researchers believe many areas will experience long-term rates of sea level rise similar to that already experienced in Solomon Islands, but the very lowest emission scenarios.Natural variations and geological movements will be superimposed on these higher rates of global average sea level rise, resulting in periods when local rates of rise will be substantially larger than that recently observed in Solomon Islands.The current conditions in Solomon Islands are a reminder into the future impacts of accelerated sea level rise.The coastlines of 33 reef islands were studied using aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2015.This information was integrated with local traditional knowledge, radiocarbon dating of trees, sea level records, and wave models.Wave energy appears to play an important role in the dramatic coastal erosion observed in Solomon Islands.Islands exposed to higher wave energy in addition to sea level rise experienced greatly accelerated loss compared with more sheltered islands.Twelve islands we studied in a low wave energy area of Solomon Islands experienced little noticeable change in shorelines despite being exposed to similar sea level rise.But of the 21 islands exposed to higher wave energy, five completely disappeared and a further six islands eroded substantially.

Contador Harrison