Sea-level rise and wave-driven flooding will negatively impact freshwater resources on many low-lying atoll islands in such a way that many could be uninhabitable in just a few decades. According to a new study published in Science Advances, scientists found that such flooding not only will impact terrestrial infrastructure and habitats, but, more importantly, it will also make the limited freshwater resources non-potable and, therefore, directly threaten the sustainability of human populations.
Most of the world’s atolls are in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The scientists focused on Roi-Namur Island on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands for their site study from November 2013 to May 2015. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has more than 1,100 low-lying islands on 29 atolls, is home for numerous island nations and hundreds of thousands of people.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Deltares, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa used a variety of climate-change scenarios to project the impact of sea-level rise and wave-driven flooding on atoll infrastructure and freshwater availability. The approach and findings in this study can serve as a proxy for atolls around the world, most of which have a similar morphology and structure, including, on average, even lower land elevations.