From: Charles Choi, Live Science
Published May 24, 2012 08:03 AM

Rising seas not only issue facing island nation

The island nation of Kiribati is one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels. However, many of the floods it has seen may be due to a mix of natural variability and human activities, complicating the picture of how rising sea levels are endangering Kiribati and other island nations.


The Republic of Kiribati in the central tropical Pacific is home to about 103,500 people. Its capital on the atoll of Tarawa has seen dramatic flooding in recent years. For instance, during the 2004 to 2005 El Niño, two major floods occurred — a "king" tide in February 2005 damaged the hospital in the town of Betio, and a second flood two weeks later breached sea walls, flooded causeways and damaged homes and public infrastructure.

The existence of low-lying nations such as Kiribati is indeed threatened by rising sea levels — "there is no doubt whatsoever," said researcher Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who has done research on Kiribati since 2005. In fact, the island nation is considering the purchase of land in Fiji to safeguard its people threatened by the rising seas.

Moreover, the flooding events Kiribati has seen are more likely to happen as global average sea levels continue to rise. "A lot of the country could be uninhabitable within the century," said Donner, who based his conclusions on a review of past research on the phenomenon.

However, Donner cautioned these flooding events are not in and of themselves evidence of rising sea levels. "You can't blame every flood on sea-level rise, just like you can't blame every heat wave on climate change," he said.

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Kiribati image via Shutterstock

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