Sea-level rise will likely render atolls uninhabitable in the lifetime of the Marshall Islands’ youth – but not in the next two decades

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The threat of sea-level rise does not just come from the permanent encroachment of the ocean upon the land. It comes – and sooner – from the way in which a higher mean sea level provides a higher base upon which storms, tides, and waves can flood the land and invade groundwater supplies. A new study by Curt Storlazzi and colleagues, released today in Science Advances, examines the impacts of the waves amplified by sea-level rise on coral atolls like those that compose the Marshall Islands. As I discuss in a Climate Impact Lab Insights post:

The authors are asking a critically important question for small island states like the Marshall Islands, and they are leveraging important tools to study the effects of waves and sea-level rise on the island and its water resources. Unfortunately, some of the headline numbers from the paper – including how soon the 40 cm threshold will be crossed – are liable to misinterpretation because of the way the authors used some sea-level rise scenarios developed for the Department of Defense by the US government’s Coastal Assessment Regional Scenario Working Group (CARSWG)….

Nonetheless, the picture is grim, particularly under high-emissions scenarios…. Even under a 1.5°C stabilization scenario, it is likely that the groundwater supplies on Roi-Namur and other islands in the region will be rendered irrevocably contaminated within the lifetime of a 8-year-old child live in the Marshall Islands today. Thus a recent Frontline project dubbed the children of the Marshall Islands today “The Last Generation”.

Read more at Climate Impact Lab Insights.