Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Climate Change Could Displace Half a Million Atoll Residents Within Decades

Climate
Climate Change Could Displace Half a Million Atoll Residents Within Decades
Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll. Peter Swarzenski / U.S. Geological Survey

A new study published in Science Advances Wednesday has bad news for the residents of low-lying atolls: If current greenhouse gas emission rates continue, climate change will render most of these islands uninhabitable by mid-century, not by the end of the century as previously believed.

This could turn the more than half a million people who live on atolls into climate refugees, The Guardian reported Wednesday.


The dramatic difference between these and previous findings is because previous studies only looked at sea level rise.

However, this study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Deltares, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, also looked at the impact of flooding from "wave overwash" when waves from storms wash over the islands. The scientists found that this flooding would pose a serious threat to the islands' supply of fresh drinking water, rendering it non-potable between 2030 and 2060 and forcing residents to leave.

"The tipping point when potable groundwater on the majority of atoll islands will be unavailable is projected to be reached no later than the middle of the 21st century," lead author and USGS geologist Curt Storlazzi said in a USGS press release.

Overwash flooding will also impact infrastructure and wildlife habitats, but the danger it poses to drinking water is especially severe.

"The overwash events generally result in salty ocean water seeping into the ground and contaminating the freshwater aquifer. Rainfall later in the year is not enough to flush out the saltwater and refresh the island's water supply before the next year's storms arrive repeating the overwash events," USGS hydrologist and study author Stephen Gingerich explained in the release.

For this study, the researchers looked at Roi-Namur Island on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. However, they said their findings would apply to atolls worldwide, which have similar shapes and lower average elevations. These include the more than 1,100 low-lying islands on 29 atolls in the Marshall Islands and atolls in the Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Society Islands, Spratly Islands, Maldives, Seychelles and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Most atolls are located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A study published Tuesday found that climate change had not been the driving force behind the past 50 years of forced displacement in East Africa.

But the atoll study is one of many that points to a looming crisis of global displacement that will come sooner than expected if the world doesn't act quickly to reduce emissions and curb climate change.

"Millions of people are going to be at risk from extreme heat, extreme water shortages and flooding as well as sea level rises ... we are talking about something that is going to play a huge role in the years ahead in terms of forcing people to leave their homes," Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration told The Guardian.

A resident of Austin, Texas scrapes snow into a bucket to melt it into water on Feb. 19, 2021. Winter storm Uri brought historic cold weather, leaving people in the area without water as pipes broke. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

President Joe Biden is being called on to back newly reintroduced legislation that seeks to remedy the nation's drinking water injustices with boosts to infrastructure and the creation of a water trust fund.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Infants and young children may experience high phthalate levels because they often put plastic products in their mouths. Image Source / Getty Images

By Stephanie Eick

You may not realize it, but you likely encounter phthalates every day. These chemicals are found in many plastics, including food packaging, and they can migrate into food products during processing. They're in personal care products like shampoos, soaps and laundry detergents, and in the vinyl flooring in many homes.

Read More Show Less

Trending

About EcoWatch

An oil pumpjack is seen in a Texas cotton field against a backdrop of wind energy. ChrisBoswell / Getty Images

Many congressional districts with the most clean energy potential are current fossil fuel hubs, potentially reducing political barriers to a just transition away from the energy sources that cause climate change, a Brookings report says.

Read More Show Less
A sea turtle rescued from Israel's devastating oil spill. MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP via Getty Images

Rescue workers in Israel are using a surprising cure to save the sea turtles harmed by a devastating oil spill: mayonnaise!

Read More Show Less
A "digital twin of Earth." European Space Agency

As the weather grows more severe, and its damages more expensive and fatal, current weather predictions fall short in providing reliable information on Earth's rapidly changing systems.

Read More Show Less