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Solomon Islands, Site of WW II Fighting, Are Vanishing

Climate change and winds are causing sea levels to rise faster over some Pacific islands. Continue reading →

This view of Auki in the Solomon Islands shows how vulnerable the archipelago is to rising sea levels. | Rob Maccoll for AusAID, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This view of Auki in the Solomon Islands shows how vulnerable the archipelago is to rising sea levels. | Rob Maccoll for AusAID, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly three-quarters of a century ago, the Solomon Islands, located about 1,000 miles northwest of Australia, were the site of some of the most brutal - and crucial - fighting between the Allies and Japanese forces in the Pacific theater of World War II.

Today, the Solomon Islands themselves are fighting a losing battle against climate change and rising sea levels.

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A just-published study in Environmental Research Levels, in which researchers used aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014 of 33 islands in the archipelago, found that five of the islands vanished beneath the waves during that period, and another six have severely receded shorelines. The rising water levels also have wiped out two villages that had existed since prior to World War II, forcing residents to relocate.

The study was done by University of Queensland scientists Simon Albert, Alistair Grinham, and Badin Gibbes, University of the Sunshine Coast's Javier Leon, John Church of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and University of Wollongong's Colin Woodroffe.

Due to local climate variability and other factors, sea levels have risen unevenly around the world, and elsewhere in the Pacific, where the rise has been in the 3 to 5 millimeters per year range, a 2010 study found that some reef islands actually have had time to expand and rise in response to climate change. In those places, the action of waves and currents helped to deposit more sediment and build up their shorelines, mitigating the water level rise.

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But the Solomon Islands, where climate change has been exacerbated by wind changes that pushed more water into the area, has been hit much harder. Sea levels have risen at about 7 to 10 millimeters per year since 1993.

Unfortunately, the Solomon Islands' predicament also is a harbinger of what we can expect elsewhere in the Pacific, the researchers warned in a companion article for The Conversation.

"Many areas will experience long-term rates of sea-level rise similar to that already experienced in Solomon Islands in all but the very lowest-emission scenarios," they predicted.