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The True Status of Earth's "Sinking Islands"

Ford, M. 2013. Shoreline changes interpreted from multi-temporal aerial photographs and high resolution satellite images: Wotje Atoll, Marshall Islands. Remote Sensing of Environment 135: 130-140.
In a study published in Remote Sensing of Environment, Murray Ford of New Zealand's University of Auckland writes (Ford, 2013) that "future trajectories of anthropogenic-driven climate changes raise questions surrounding the long-term viability of low-lying atoll islands as centers of human habitation." Indeed, some are concerned that global warming will lead to an acceleration of sea level rise that will inundate large portions of low-lying island states, making them uninhabitable. But is this really the case?

To investigate this concern, while studying Wotje Atoll of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Ford used a combination of aerial photographs and satellite imagery of shoreline changes that occurred over a 67-year period that was characterized by rising sea levels. In examining these data Ford reports that, between 1945 and 2010, shoreline accretion was more prevalent than shoreline erosion, with an average net shoreline extension of +1.74 m, specifically noting that "shorelines were accretionary along the lagoon, ocean and channel facing shorelines, as well as on elongate spits and small islands." However, he notes that "shorelines interpreted from high resolution satellite imagery captured between 2004 and 2012 indicate that shorelines within this sample of islands are largely in an erosive state," which he suggests "may be sea level rise induced, or part of an unresolved shoreline oscillation."

Whatever the case, Ford rightly states that his study demonstrates "the critical need for improved shoreline change monitoring within atoll settings in order to assess sea level rise impacts along island shorelines."

Archived 23 October 2013