World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Land area of low-lying Tuvalu has increased

Land area of low-lying Tuvalu has increased

The tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, thought to be under threat from sea level rise, has actually expanded in land area over the past 40 years and is likely to continue to be habitable a century from now, scientists say.
The tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, thought to be under threat from sea level rise, has actually expanded in land area over the past 40 years and is likely to continue to be habitable a century from now, scientists say.

New research from the University of Auckland published today in Nature Communications mapped shoreline change of each of Tuvalu’s 101 islands across its nine atolls over a 40-year period.

Eleven of the remote and sparsely populated country’s islands have a permanent human population, two have a population of more than 600.

The research team, including Professor Paul Kench, Dr Murray Ford and Dr Susan Owen from the School of Environment, used aerial photos going as far back as 1943, and photo collections from 1971 and 1984 with updated satellite imagery from 2004-2014, to compare how the shoreline of each atoll changed between 1971 and 2014.

Mapping of island size and position shows that Tuvalu has experienced a net increase in land area of 2.9 percent or 73.5ha. Overall 74 percent of islands in the group – a total of 73 – are larger now than forty years ago.

Yet sea level rise in the region has been happening at twice the global average over the past 40 years.

“We tend to think of Pacific atolls as static landforms that will simply be inundated as sea levels rise but there is growing evidence these islands are geologically dynamic and are constantly changing,” says Professor Kench.

Tuvalu has long been considered one of the low-lying Pacific nations at threat from sea level rise caused by climate change and over the 40-year period of the study, local sea levels rose at twice the global average.

“The study findings may seem counterintuitive given that sea level has been rising in the region over the past half century, but the dominant mode of change over that time on Tuvalu has been expansion, not erosion.”

Professor Kench says sea level is just one factor that can influence island change. A range of environmental processes have contributed to that pattern including sediment supply and wave patterns.

Those processes, particularly during extreme events such as Cyclone Bebe in 1972, could account for the expansion of larger mixed sand-gravel islands and gravel islands, while smaller islands which are predominantly sand are more likely to have been destabilised, he said.

“On the basis of this research we project a markedly different trajectory for Tuvalu’s islands over the next century and while we recognise that habitability rests on a number of factors, loss of land is unlikely to be a factor in forcing depopulation of Tuvalu.”

Historic patterns of human settlement based on legacies of economic and social investment may not be well aligned with the physical changes occurring in the islands, says Prof. Kench.

Rather than simple re-location or migration, new adaptations could be considered that involve the community in decision-making on issues of planning, development goals and land tenure systems that take into account the dynamic nature of islands.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


UN Rights Office On Syria: The “Monstrous Annihilation” Of Eastern Ghouta

Since the Syrian Government and their allies escalated their offensive against opposition-held Eastern Ghouta on 4 February, there have been more than 1,200 civilian casualties, including at least 346 killed and 878 injured, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas... Ninety-two of these civilian deaths allegedly occurred in just one 13-hour period on Monday. More>>


Cyclone Gita: 70% Of Tonga Population Affected

The full scale of destruction is beginning to emerge from Tonga in the aftermath of the severe tropical cyclone Gita. Around 50,000 people, or almost 70% of the country’s population, have been affected, a third of whom are children. More>>


Gita: Samoas Clean Up After Being Swamped By Cyclone

Apia in the wake of Gita Photo: Rudy Bartley The clean up is continuing in the two Samoas after Tropical Cyclone Gita hit on Saturday morning. More>>


Grand Coalition : Germany's two main political parties set to govern under Angela Merkel.

The liberal-conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) negotiated through the night in a marathon final push to nail down an agreement. More>>

80 Passengers: Kiribati Ferry Disaster

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are working with the Government of Kiribati to support children, families and communities affected by the recent Butiraoi ferry disaster. More>>


Campbell On: the US demonising of Iran

Satan may not exist, but the Evil One has always been a handy tool for priests and politicians alike. Currently, Iran is the latest bogey conjured up by Washington to (a) justify its foreign policy interventions and (b) distract attention from its foreign policy failures. More


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC