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Study Links Vanishing of Solomon Islands to Anthropogenic Climate Change

A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters finds that five of the uninhabitated Solomon Islands have submerged underwater and six more have experienced dramatic shoreline reductions due to man-made climate change. The study by a team of Australian researchers offers scientific evidence confirming anecdotal accounts of climate change impacts on Pacific islands. That evidence consists in part of radiocarbon tree dating and of aerial and satellite images of 33 islands dating back to 1947.

According to the study authors, the Western Pacific, where residents in many remote communities must constantly climb to higher elevations, is a hotspot for tracking sea-level rise.

The Solomon Islands have experienced nearly three times the global average of sea-level rise, 7–10 millimeters per year since 1993—rates consistent with those that can be expected across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century, reported Scientific American.

Previous research had attributed Pacific island shoreline changes to a mix of extreme events, seawalls, and inappropriate coastal development as well as sea-level rise. But the new study directly links island loss to climate-related phenomena.

Human disturbances, plate tectonics, hurricanes, and waves can mask the effects of climate change. So to hone in on those effects, the researchers studied islands with no human habitation—Nuatambu Island being the one notable exception.

“Rates of shoreline recession are substantially higher in areas exposed to high wave energy, indicating a synergistic interaction between sea-level rise and waves,” the study authors said. “Understanding these local factors that increase the susceptibility of islands to coastal erosion is critical to guide adaptation responses for these remote Pacific communities.”

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall But Global CO2Concentrations Rise

Last year, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States fell 12 percent below 2005 levels as a result of electric power sector changes.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), which released the data, attributed the decline largely to “decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.” Such fuel use changes, the EIA reports, accounted for 68 percent of total energy-related carbon dioxide reductions from 2005 to 2015.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide concentrations at a remote Australia monitoring station—Cape Grim—are poised to hit a new high of 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide for the first time in a few weeks. Though that mark is largely symbolic, the United Nations suggests that concentrations of all greenhouse gases should not be allowed to peak higher than 450 ppm this century to maximize chances of limiting global temperature rise.

“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400 ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which runs the station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off its ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.”

The first 400 ppm milestone was hit in 2013 by a monitoring station in Mauna Loa. Cape Grim and Mauna Loa are among three stations in the world that measure baseline carbon dioxide. Their readings are unaffected by regional pollutions sources that would contaminate air quality.

Companies Relinquish Arctic Drilling Leases

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, and other major oil and gas companieshave relinquished oil and gas leases worth approximately $2.5 billion and spanning 2.2 million acres of the Arctic Ocean.

The region is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but tapping these resources has come at great risk for companies.

“Given the current environment, our prospects in the Chukchi Sea are not competitive within our portfolio,” said ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman. “This will effectively eliminate any near-term plans for Chukchi exploration for the company.”

Marketplace reports that data secured through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Shell, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Iona Energy have renounced all but one of their leases in the Chukchi Sea—meaning 80 percent of all area in the American Arctic leased in a 2008 sale has or will be abandoned.

Shell Spokesman Curtis Smith said “After extensive consideration and evaluation, Shell will relinquish all but one of its federal offshore leases in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Separate evaluations are underway for our federal offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea. This action is consistent with our earlier decision not to explore offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Comments

  1. Andrew Roberts
    Houston, Texas
    May 16, 3:58 pm

    Correction. The study does not link the past disappearance or erosion of these islands to rising sea-level caused by anthropogenic climate change. Instead it proposes that understanding the effect of whatever did cause their disapearance or erosion might provide insights to inform local resilience strategies against anticipated sea-level rise due to climate change in the future. The sea-level did not rise enough during the period in which the 5 Solomon islands disapeared to have submerged them, they must rather have subsided or been wave-eroded.

  2. Andrew Roberts
    Houston, TX
    May 16, 3:56 pm

    Correction. The study does not link the past disappearance or erosion of these islands to rising sea-level caused by anthropogenic climate change. Instead it proposes that understanding the effect of whatever did cause their disappearance or erosion might provide insights to inform local resilience strategies against anticipated sea-level rise due to climate change in the future. The sea-level did not rise enough during the period in which the 5 Solomon islands disapeared to have submerged them, they must rather have subsided or been wave-eroded.