Sinking islands caused by sea-level rise, not climate change

By Ben Guarino

Dead and dying trees emerge from the ocean above a sunken Solomon Island. Photo / Corey Howell
Dead and dying trees emerge from the ocean above a sunken Solomon Island. Photo / Corey Howell

The author of a widely reported new study on the sinking of five islands in the Pacific says links with climate change have been exaggerated.

Dr Simon Albert's report studied 33 reef islands in the Solomon Islands between 1947 and 2014 and found that five had been washed away completely and six had been eroded.

The study blamed the loss on a combination of sea-level rise and high wave energy.

"All these headlines are certainly pushing things a bit towards the 'climate change has made islands vanish' angle. I would prefer slightly more moderate titles that focus on sea-level rise being the driver rather than simply 'climate change'," Albert told the Guardian.

It said the major misunderstanding stems from the conflation of sea-level rise with climate change. Albert's paper says the ocean has been rising in the Solomon Islands at 7mm a year, more than double the global average.

Since the 1990s, trade winds in the Pacific have been particularly intense. This has been driven partly by global warming and partly by climatic cycles - in particular the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Guardian says.

"These trade winds have basically pushed water up into western Pacific and have driven these exceptionally high rates of [sea-level rise] in the Solomons," said Albert.

"The trade winds are partly a natural cycle but also the recent intensification is related to atmospheric warming."

The proportion of the extra rise driven by climate change was not considered by Albert's study.

"The key aspect I stand by is that these observations from the Solomons are a warning of things to come irrespective of if climate change alone caused it or a range of factors," he said.

- NZ Herald

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