Kiribati on the move – but not sinking

Guest post by Andi Cockroft

I certainly am standing on the shoulders of Giants here, citing our very own Willis Eschenbach’s excellent essay on Pacific Island Nations and their “shrinking” coral reefs. Published in these hallowed pages just over two years ago as “Floating Islands”.

As background, I would thoroughly recommend a re-read – however I will borrow bits and pieces from Willis’ work – heck, you may as well assume that (towards the end) I have plagiarised much from Willis’ excellent post.

But now for today’s story.

Sitting eating breakfast under the golden arches, a very rare event for me, I was drawn to something in the local newspaper here, the Dominion Post – and as I’ve seen in comments in other posts of mine, the owners of the Dom, Fairfax Media, are so unmitigatedly biased it’s unbelievable. I say this is a rare event for I rarely eat under the arches, and never ever read the rubbish in the Dom – but hey there’s an exception to every rule.

As reported in print at the Dom, online at the Beeb here and the Telegraph here; the Kiribati Government (pronounced kirr-i-bas or kir-ee-bahs – the local affectation of “Gilberts” from Colonial days) is looking to purchase around 23 Sq km (9 Sq ml) on nearby Fiji’s Vanua Levu as a staging post for relocation of the Kiribati’s 100,000 people.

Autonomous Mind picks up with a repost here – more later


According to the Kiribati Government Website here, Kiribati is composed of 32 atolls and one raised coral island, dispersed over 3,500,000 square kilometres, (1,351,000 square miles) straddling the equator, and bordering the International Date Line to the east. Total land area is 811 Sq km; this includes three island groups – Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Phoenix Islands. 21 of the 33 islands are inhabited. The population is [was] 112,850 (July 2009 est.).

So whilst we have here what looks to me to be a resurrection of the “Give us more cash” doctrine, I can’t actually blame them – no more than I can blame the beggar who can make more money from his trade than getting a real job (I once knew a guy who earned twice what I did just by begging part-time on London’s Oxford Street – but that’s another story)

If just by creating these stories, the West gives them heaps of dosh – why would they not come back for more – stands to reason.

But is this a valid call or not – well I suppose it depends on your point of view.

Way back in September 2011, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a joint statement [emphasis mine]:-

[they]….. today stressed that climate change posed the most serious threat to the livelihoods, security and survival of the island nation’s residents and the inhabitants of the wider Pacific region, saying the phenomenon was undermining efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Both leaders reaffirmed the need for urgent international action to reduce emissions of the harmful greenhouse gases and underlined the need [to] make climate change adaptation funding available to finance the implementation of critical programmes to tackle the impact of climate change on communities there….”

Full text here.

Yep, sounds just like “give us the cash” to me – but again is there a clear and present danger?

If you have read Willis’ essay by now, you probably already know the answer, but I’ll just quote a bit of what others have to say:

Just as Mannian climatology would use proxies, so I regret I will have to do – there just is insufficient data (or I am too inept to find/mine it), that reference has to be made to nearby Island Nations who do have readily accessible tide-gauges (if you can help me out here please do so in comments below) has this neat figure:


The graph below was so faint, I’ve had to Photoshop it – but this originally for the Maldives from British Oceanic Data Centre (BODC) here:-


Apart from the obvious disconnect in the early 90’s, which may be a location problem, certainly from 1995 to 2004 shows no real trend using my eye-ometer.

And don’t take my word for it, a paper in New Scientist by Paul Kench and Arthur Webb entitled Shape-shifting islands defy sea-level rise (behind paywall here) actually found that far from being inundated, the majority of coral islands are actually growing not shrinking – they can adapt to sea-level

Reported by Australia’s ABC here


Climate scientists have expressed surprise at findings that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not sinking.

Islands in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia are among those which have grown, largely due to coral debris, land reclamation and sediment.

The findings, published in the magazine New Scientist, were gathered by comparing changes to 27 Pacific islands over the last 20 to 60 years using historical aerial photos and satellite images.

Auckland University’s Associate Professor Paul Kench, a member of the team of scientists, says the results challenge the view that Pacific islands are sinking due to rising sea levels associated with climate change.

“Eighty per cent of the islands we’ve looked at have either remained about the same or, in fact, gotten larger,” he said.

“Some of those islands have gotten dramatically larger, by 20 or 30 per cent.

“We’ve now got evidence the physical foundations of these islands will still be there in 100 years.”

But, the article continues [bold mine]:-

Dr Kench says the growth of the islands can keep pace with rising sea levels.

“The reason for this is these islands are so low lying that in extreme events waves crash straight over the top of them,” he said.

“In doing that they transport sediment from the beach or adjacent reef platform and they throw it onto the top of the island.”

But Dr Kench says this does not mean climate change does not pose dangers.

“The land may still be there but will they still be able to support human habitation?” he asked.

Adelaide University climate scientist Professor Barry Brook says he is surprised by the findings.

So just why are the Kiribatians looking to relocate? Is it a real problem? Is it just “give us the cash”, or is it some other problem?

Many of these smaller Island Nations are doing a fantastic trade in tourism, indeed the Maldives is building airstrips right, left and centre. Kiribati has two international airports (Godzone only has three or perhaps four).

As Willis points out, water appears to be a big issue, as is coral mining and fishing (yes fish can upset the coral atoll growth). Others point to rubbish – simply put they are running out of places to dig holes and bury the stuff.

But I do want to bring Willis’ essay in here regarding the dynamics of fresh ground water in the coral environment – this bit I really like:-

Can a sea level rise cause salt water to intrude into the freshwater lens?

Short answer, no. To understand what is really happening with the freshwater lens, we’ll start with the geology. Here is a cross-section of a typical atoll that I [Willis] drew up.


Note that the sea water penetrates throughout the porous coral rubble base. Because fresh water is lighter than salt water, the freshwater lens is floating on this subsurface part of the ocean. The weight of the fresh water pushes down the surface of the sea water underneath it, forming the bottom of the “lens” shape. The lens is wider where the atoll is wider. The amount of fresh water in the lens is a balance between what is added and what is withdrawn or lost. The lens is only replenished by rain.

The important thing here is that the freshwater lens is floating on the sea surface. It’s not like a well on land, with an underground freshwater source with a water-tight layer below it. There is no underground freshwater source on an atoll. It is just a bubble of water, a rain-filled lens is floating on a sea water table in a porous coral rubble and sand substructure. If there is no rain, the fresh water will eventually slowly mix with the salt water and dissipate. When there is rain, you get a floating lens of fresh water, which goes up and down with the underlying sea water.

So the claim, that a sea level rise can cause the sea water to intrude into the fresh water lens, is not true either. The fresh water lens floats on the sea water below. A rise in the sea level merely moves the lens upwards. It does not cause salt water to intrude into the lens.

I find Willis’ explanation of why such islands will not be inundated by sea-level variations equally fascination – this time Willis relies upon none-other than one Charles Darwin:-

Would a sea level rise gravely endanger low-lying coral atolls?

Regarding atolls and sea level rise, the most important fact was discovered by none other than Charles Darwin. He realized that coral atolls essentially “float” on the surface of the sea. When the sea rises, the atoll rises with it. They are not solid, like a rock island. They are a pile of sand and rubble. There is always material added and material being lost. Atolls exist in a delicate balance between new sand and coral rubble being added from the reef, and atoll sand and rubble being eroded by wind and wave back into the sea or into the lagoon. As sea level rises, the balance tips in favor of sand and rubble being added to the atoll. The result is that the atoll rises with the sea level.

Darwin’s discovery also explained why coral atolls occur in rings as in Fig. 2 above. They started as a circular inshore coral reef around a volcanic rock island. As the sea level rose, flooding more and more of the island, the coral grew upwards. Eventually the island was drowned by the rising sea levels, and all that is left is the ring of reef and coral atolls.

Why don’t we see atolls getting fifty feet high? Wind erosion keeps atolls from getting too tall. Wind increases rapidly with distance above the ocean. The atolls simply cannot get taller. The sand at that elevation is blown away as fast as it is added. That’s why all atolls are so low-lying.

When the sea level rises, wind erosion decreases. The coral itself continues to grow upwards to match the sea level rise. Because the coral continues to flourish, the flow of sand and rubble onto the atoll continues, and with reduced wind erosion the atoll height increases by the amount of the sea level rise.

Since (as Darwin showed) atolls float up with the sea level, the idea that they will be buried by sea level rises is totally unfounded. Despite never being more than a few metres tall, hey have survived a sea level rise of up to three hundred plus feet (call it a hundred metres) within the last twenty thousand years. Historically they have floated up higher than the peaks of drowned mountains.

So the [this] claim is not true either. Atolls are created by sea level rise, not destroyed by sea level rise.

More on Darwin’s Atoll theory from our friends at Wikipedia here


And, as Willis sums up, there are significant stress factors affecting relative sea-level and fresh water salinity.

  • A limited supply of fresh water – no rain (or rain runs off to sea) – wells run dry or saline
  • Wind erosion is ongoing, and as long as deposition keeps pace then no issues.
  • Coral-grazing fish provide coral sand for storms to deposit – kill the fish and lose the supply of sand
  • Coral health is vital for production of coral sand – mine the coral or sell specimens and kill the supply of sand
  • Use of coral and coral sand for building will serve to exhaust the supply.

And one final quote from Willis:-

What goes unremarked is the loss of the reef sand, which is essential for the continued existence of the atoll. The major cause for the loss of sand is the indiscriminate, wholesale killing of parrotfish and other beaked reef-grazing fish. A single parrotfish, for example, creates around a hundred kilos of coral sand per year. Parrotfish and other beaked reef fish create the sand by grinding up the coral with their massive jaws, digesting the food, and excreting the ground coral.

Does it make sense then for Kiribati to buy (via grant no doubt) 23 Sq Km of Fiji – especially given Fiji’s tumultuous political regime – and would it have a hope of supporting 100,000+ people there? Indeed, would the Kiribati Government have a hope in hell of getting its population to sell-up and move to a foreign environment and culture?

With tourism to such places as Kiribati in such high demand, just who is going to stay behind to service the trade? Perhaps a few hardy souls, or will Kiribati simply sell off its islands to the super-rich to enable it to buy its way into other Nations?

From a quote in Autonomous Mind here by Dr Nils-Axel Mörner, former president of the International Association of Quaternary Research’s Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution. [emphasis mine]

With respect to the article on March 7 by Paul Chapman [Telegraph, Wellington, NZ] on the future of Kiribati, I have to protest and urge all readers to consult the only “hard facts” there are, viz. the tide gauge record of the changes in sea level.

The graph reveals that there, in fact, is no ongoing sea level rise that threatens the habitation of the islands. This is the hard observational fact, which we should all face before starting to talk about future flooding and the need for evacuation.

If the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, claims that the islands will soon be flooded and that there is an urgent need to buy new land for possible future refugees, it is the president’s own tactical idea in order to raise money from abroad. Let us respect the observational facts and stay away from invented disasters.

No matter which way you look at it, the small (if any) sea level variations we are experiencing would have no notable effect. There are other far more serious anthropogenic factors at work here – but CAGW and/or Sea-Level are not included.


PS Again, I would really urge reading Willis’ original article.

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March 9, 2012 12:10 pm

Maybe the BBC should read their own website:
BBC : Low-lying Pacific islands ‘growing not sinking’
By Nick Bryant JUne 2010
BBC News, Sydney
Low-lying Tuvalu is one of many Pacific states worried by climate change Continue reading the main story
A new geological study has shown that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not sinking.
The islands of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia are among those which have grown, because of coral debris and sediment.

Bill Hunter
March 9, 2012 12:18 pm

Gee that’s a unique idea for the new welfare. Lets not just give them homes lets make sure they also have vacation homes should natural disaster strike their regular residence!

Brian H
March 9, 2012 12:46 pm

Indeed, Willis’ article is a masterpiece. His repeated insistence that the parrotfish be protected like God’s emissaries would almost by itself keep those islands safe and thriving.
And the references to Darwin’s “deductive discovery” of the evolution of reefs and atolls are amazing, fascinating. Superb stuff.
Properly handled, if the sea rises a meter, so will Kiribati. And Tuvalu. And the Maldives.

March 9, 2012 12:49 pm

You might also benefit from reading Dickinson 2009 ( From that article, Table 1:
Kiribati-Tungaru chain
Earliest crossover (~1m sea level rise by 2100) – 2070
Latest crossover (~0.5 by 2100 continuing at that rate) – 2140
Crossover is defined when high tied submerges mid-Holocene paleoreef remnants – the stable underpinnings. At that point atoll unconsolidated sediment cover is directly exposed to wave action/erosion, which can be expected to rapidly destroy them.
These islands (from the archeological data) were settled only after Holocene sea levels dropped enough to allow this stable sediment on the atoll rims – perhaps 1000-1500 years ago. These islands are dependent upon sea level, and certainly not permanent features of the landscape. Atolls are not created by sea level rise. They are created by sea level rise (building the coral) followed by a sea level fall (allowing deposition of sediment on the atoll so that things can grow). Without that sea level fall, that deposition, they are simply unlivable, submerged corals.
So the entire premise of this thread is incorrect. Atolls require a sea level fall to form. Sea level rise (alone) will destroy these islands.

March 9, 2012 12:54 pm

I’m increasingly quoting from the December 1988 IPCC charter.
Not only does it bullhorn the notably unscientific bias of the U.N. (“human activities could change global climate patterns … the cause and effect relationship of human activities and climate”), not only does it promote the “C” in “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” (“threatening present and future generations with severe economic consequence [and] and eventual rise in sea levels, the effects of which could be disastrous for mankind”), but it also states the core value of the U.N. and the IPCC, which in a nutshell is “gimme, gimme, gimme.”
To wit, the U.N. General Assembly “Urges governments … to undertake and promote specific, co-operative action-oriented programmes and research … and to contribute, as appropriate, with human and financial resources to efforts to protect the global climate.”
All three of the above points are woven throughout the charter in deliciously evasive U.N.-speak.
It’s important to point back to this 24 year old charter, because it does much to explain the scientific sloppiness, brazen kleptomania, and amazing tunnel vision of today’s CAGW promoters.

March 9, 2012 12:58 pm

The following article from Financial Times might, or might not, be relevant

March 9, 2012 1:07 pm

OT: what’s happening with the font style? Is it my computer or something has changed? thanks

March 9, 2012 1:10 pm

Darwin’s genius is still difficult to fathom.
As this entry states, it isn’t well known that Charles Darwin brilliantly deduced how and why coral atolls formed over geologic time. He somehow came to understand that atolls were originally shallow reefs which formed a fringe around an oceanic volcano. The volcano would then, due to geologic forces, slowly subside into the depths due to the forces which drive plate tectonics (unknown in Darwin’s day), and the fringing reef would also drop. But the reef would then build back up to the surface by coral growth and deposition of coral parts on the atoll. The end result over time is the reef at the surface, and the volcano slipping down to the depths.
Here is the link to an article which described how, only in 1950, Darwin’s theory was in fact confirmed. You will see that the reef grew at the very slow rate of an inch per millennium. That corresponds to 1,000 inches every million years, which is 83 feet every million years. If this is accurate, then the fact that the coral goes down 4,200 feet suggests that the coral reef first formed about 50 million years ago. That is near the beginning (not the end) of the Eocene era of geologic time.
This is the Darwin article:
And some paragraphs (from second of three internet pages):
“…Not until 1950—while attempting to destroy Eniwetok, an atoll in the Marshall Islands, near the equator in the Pacific Ocean—did science find definitive answers. Preparatory to testing a hydrogen bomb there, the U.S. Government sent geophysicists to drill test cores of the coral deeper than anyone had previously done. Dobbs relates that finally, at 4,200 feet, the drills hit “a greenish basalt, the volcanic mountain on which the reef had originated.”
Dating of the tiny fossils in the bottommost layer of coral showed that the reef had gotten its start in the Eocene. For more than thirty million years this reef had been growing—an inch every millennium—on a sinking volcano, thickening as the lava beneath it subsided.
Over the next few years, many more drillings and echo soundings confirmed that with rare exceptions, reefs had formed only in areas of sea floor subsidence all over the Pacific and Caribbean. Although Darwin couldn’t have foreseen it, his model fit perfectly with theories of plate tectonics. In David Dobbs’s words, “the movement of the earth’s huge plates explains the subsidence of the Pacific and many other reef areas. Darwin’s theory was astoundingly correct.”
And it was as correct biologically as it was geologically. We know now that reef-building corals thrive only where their symbiotic, photosynthetic algae can receive sufficient sunlight to generate nutrients for the polyps (a depth of about eighty feet seems to be optimal). While the ocean floor beneath them keeps sinking, colonies keep reaching upwards to receive sunlight. As they do so, they secrete calcium carbonate, adding their minute contribution on top of the accumulated skeletons of millions of years.”

Richard C (NZ)
March 9, 2012 1:10 pm

On topic comment follows but first I have to share this example of the body of knowledge residing at the Hot Topic blog in NZ (the “idiot” is me):-

Ian Forrester March 10, 2012 at 4:37 am
I’m going to respond once more and only once more to this idiot. Temperature in lakes and oceans lag solar by about 60 days. How can solar be responsible for heating? Of course it is the thermal energy in the air which causes the water temperature to rise. Where does that thermal energy come form? It comes from IR radiation which is being prevented from leaving the atmosphere by the green house gases, levels of which are increasing due to burning of fossil fuels.
As for your comments on “thermal diffusivity of water” Have you never read in the papers discussing water temperature that the main cause for heat to get into the water column is not by diffusion but by mixing caused by surface winds?
Why are such idiots allowed to waste peoples’ time with their lies and misrepresentations?

Note that my previous comment was:-

Richard C2 March 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm
Ian Forrester March 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm
Ques: What exactly was your “earlier prognosis”?
Ans:”The lake lagging air in the Great Lakes plot is explained by thermal lag of water wrt air after solar input”
Think thermal inertia of water (slow) vs air (fast)
Clue here Ian: Thermal diffusivity mm²/s
Air 19
Water at 25°C 0.143

Out of curiosity, I have asked Ian what he thinks the speed of light is.

March 9, 2012 1:13 pm

We need more data. I volunteer to go and take one daily measurement of sea level for the rest of my life.

Billy Liar
March 9, 2012 1:33 pm

KR says:
March 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm
So the entire premise of this thread is incorrect. Atolls require a sea level fall to form. Sea level rise (alone) will destroy these islands.
Or Dickinson (2009) could be wrong. He has a very obtuse writing style.

A Lovell
March 9, 2012 1:37 pm

This from 2010.
Most enlightening. If they truly thought they were about to disappear due to sea level rise, property values would be plummeting.

Jeff D.
March 9, 2012 1:38 pm

I am not a rich country or person, but I am willing to help the fearful president of that county by offering $1,000.00 for his personal land. Seeing as how nobody will buy it because it is sinking I am sure he will take me up on the offer.

Richard C (NZ)
March 9, 2012 2:01 pm

Alarm is being extracted by subtle means too in certain quarters. For example the Skeptical Science (SkS) article by Rob Painting:-
‘What’s happening to Tuvalu sea level?’

Between 1950-2009 sea level at Tuvalu rose at the rate of 5.1 (±0.7) mm per year. This is almost 3 times larger than average global sea level rise over the same period

But looking at the abstract of the paper cited (Becker et al 2011), the story is a little different and even Painting misses the point in his own article, quoting Painting (SkS) first:-

At Funafati Island, the study authors found that between 1950-2009 ‘total’ sea level, which also accounts for the rate of island subsidence or sinking

Now Becker et al:-

We estimate the total rate of sea level change at selected individual islands, as a result of climate variability and change, plus vertical ground motion where available


We use GPS precise positioning records whenever possible to estimate the vertical ground motion component that is locally superimposed to the climate-related sea level components. Superposition of global mean sea level rise, low-frequency regional variability and vertical ground motion shows that some islands of the region suffered significant ‘total’ sea level rise (i.e., that felt by the population) during the past 60 years

2 components to “‘total’”:-
#1 “climate variability and change”
#2 “vertical ground motion”
Sea level rise (#1) = “‘total’” – #2
23 [yr span]
0.9 [mm/yr sea level rise]
5.1 – 0.9 = 4.2 mm/yr, rate of island subsidence or sinking
Rob Painting disputes my reasoning here:-
But I note that the rest of the Pacific is not following Tuvalu’s lead if the rise AFTER subsidence is taken out really is 5.1 mm/yr. From ‘South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project: Pacific Country Report’
December 2010
Table 5. Sea level trends for additional Pacific Forum data holdings on the Joint Archive for Sea Level.
The mean trend for datasets that span more than 25 years is 1.3 mm/yr. Data from JASL as at March 2011.
Kiribati’s not on-message either.
Rep. of Kiribati
Rep. of Kiribati
Rep. of Kiribati
Rep. of Kiribati
Rep. of Kiribati
Rep. of Kiribati

Joe Prins
March 9, 2012 2:07 pm

If only the second marine division would have found a sunken island……………

Harriet Harridan
March 9, 2012 2:34 pm

When I read the Kiribati story I was reminded of the tragic plight of the Tuvalu Islands that slipped beneath the waves in 2001. As the unbiased Guardian reported at the time…
“Farewell Tuvalu
Andrew Simms
Monday 29 October 2001
The Guardian
The world has just shifted on its axis, but not in the way you might first imagine. A group of nine islands, home to 11,000 people, is the first nation to pay the ultimate price for global warming.

The authorities in Tuvalu have publicly conceded defeat to the sea rising around them. Appeals have gone out to the governments of New Zealand and Australia to help in the full-scale evacuation of Tuvalu’s population. After an apparent rebuff from Australia, the first group of evacuees is due to leave for New Zealand next year. ”,3604,582445,00.html
Oh. Hang on. Tuvalu’s still there. Who woulda thunk it?

March 9, 2012 3:00 pm

So, essentially, in a million years Kiribati will be its very own continent and in two million years it has sunk. Man must those Kiribatian worry that their whole future continent will be sinking even further into the future. :p

Chris Edwards
March 9, 2012 3:12 pm

In the 1980s a pal of mine wwent there for 2 years to oversee the instalation of a huge phone exchange, his house, as they all do had a cistern to store rainwater, so pray tell how will and seal level rise, real or virtual affect that?

Brian R
March 9, 2012 3:23 pm

I’m thinking I’ll make an offer for the soon to be worthless land. I think $1 per acre for land not abutting the ocean and $1.10 per acre for beach front land. That should help get people out of their situation and I don’t want to seem greedy. Maybe I should flip around those offers. I mean the beach front property will be gone in just a few years as I hear it. I wouldn’t want to pay too much for land that will be under water soon.

March 9, 2012 3:47 pm

What have out-of-date sea level charts for Tuvalu and the Maldives (which is in the Indian Ocean) have to do with Kiribati today? The author has no data but asks for help from commenters to prove his argument? Data first, arguments and hypotheses second, please. I hope WUWT is not going the way of warmist blogs with lots of discussion and cosy reinforcement but few real facts or data.
In fact sea level at Tarawa is dropping between 2002 and end 2011 at 4.7 mm/year. Since 1993, when the NTC SEAFRAME gauge was installed, a straight regression gives 2.7 mm/year. However, this includes a large El Niño dip starting in 1997 which drops the start of the trend line. If this is excluded, the more realistic rate is 1.1 mm/year. GPS data shows Tarawa to be rising at about 5 mm/ recent years (roughly equal to the rate of drop in sea level), though the rate alternates between positive (up) and negative (down) over the record since 1993, with little net change since then.
I see no late 20th century rate acceleration (as has been claimed) anywhere across the Pacific, indeed the opposite is true, with generally decreasing trends in the last 2 or 3 decades, in several cases becoming negative recently.

March 9, 2012 4:11 pm

An author, when successful, draws readers in.
I missed the draw, amongst the accolades.

James of the West
March 9, 2012 4:15 pm

WUWT Font appears to be broken (all CAPS and small size – very hard on the eyes, if deliberate its an annoying change). Seems to be happening after the top article, i.e. the top article is normal and readable then every subsequent thing is the tiny caps font on both home page and in here. Please put it back to how it was.

Nothing wrong on this end, make sure your browser is updated. – Anthony

March 9, 2012 4:37 pm

I’ve often thought that supply ships to these atolls should
include some containers of composted material, i. e., recycled
garbage, which could be spread out over the islands. They
would gradually rise as the island sank or the sea level increased.
Two birds with one stone.

Gary Hladik
March 9, 2012 5:32 pm

KR says (March 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm): “So the entire premise of this thread is incorrect. Atolls require a sea level fall to form. Sea level rise (alone) will destroy these islands.”
On the other hand,
Barry Woods says (March 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm): “The islands of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia are among those which have grown, because of coral debris and sediment.”
That means sea level must actually be stable or falling, which contradicts the IPCC’s dire predictions. Thanks, KR, that’s a load off my mind!
Now I better contact James Hansen and tell him he can quit worrying, too. 🙂

Rick Bradford
March 9, 2012 5:48 pm

Kiribati. Not drowning, waving.

March 9, 2012 7:43 pm

I read the Dom Post article too. Fortunately, “autonomousmind” in the UK saw the Telegraph article and referred it to Dr Nils-Axel Monner to comment who said “..there is NO ongoing rise in sea levels that threatens habitation of the islands and suggested it was a tactical idea to raise money.” I’ve written a ‘letter to the Editor” of Dom Post (yesterday) giving the good news and and referencing where to find it at ‘’. Wonder if my letter will be printed?

March 9, 2012 8:10 pm

dwyoder says: (March 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm) “We need more data. I volunteer to go and take one daily measurement of sea level for the rest of my life.”
You don’t need to, Dwy, Josh already his Hughes-Josh ducks deployed.

bobby b
March 9, 2012 8:11 pm

If the islanders refuse the very kind offers for the purchase of their land found above for the reason that the prices offered would not be sufficient for them to purchase replacement land, then I am here to help them.
I offer (on a straight one-to-one exchange) acres of land (up to a maximum of one thousand acres total) in northern Minnesota, U.S.A., for acres of land on Kiribati.
It’s beautiful here once the snow melts, until the next snow season begins. (We call this truly heavenly season “mosquito and deerfly time”, from the old Sioux Indian words meaning “Paradise.”)
We in Minnesota pray daily that the U.N.’s warnings of upcoming global warming catastrophe be well-founded, that mankind ignores the warnings, and that the ice covering our lakes melts away by April every year. Kiribatians, knowing with certainty that these things WILL come about, will be constantly optimistic living here, which would make the very short winter days more bearable than they are for those of us made pessimistic by decades of unanswered prayers.
We Minnesotans, with our celebrated Nordic stoicism, are willing to stand quietly on Kiribati’s shores and watch the warm tropical waters slowly rise around our frozen feet as if the land was a sinking Viking funeral ship bringing us, finally and at last, to the promised land where water can be found as a liquid.
It’s our duty to help you. Please call.

Richard C (NZ)
March 9, 2012 8:19 pm

Update to my dispute with Rob Painting (SkS) at Hot Topic re Tuvalu sea levels from up-thread here:-
Richard C2 March 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm
“-10% of this ‘total’ sea level rise at Tuvalu is due to land subsidence”
OK, so using Becker, the ACTUAL long-term sea level rise to 2009 was 5.1 – 0.51 = 4.6 mm/yr
But there’s more recent data from SEAFRAME (that has to be purchased as I understand) but can be seen plotted in Fig 11 page 27 here:-
Since the ’98 El Nino to June 2011 (last 13 years reported) there’s been no 4.6 mm/yr rise, in fact it’s been flat or as Fig 13 page 29 indicates, falling since mid 2006 (last 5 years reported). You might like to highlight the same period in Fig 1 of your SkS post for your readers because it shows the same.
The falling trend since 2006 is consistent with the trend in HadSST2 BTW (falling since 2005)
The crisis seems to have eased somewhat and Bryan Leyland is vindicated.

March 9, 2012 8:30 pm

KR says:
March 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm
The archeological data alone seem a precarious underpinning for any theory of atoll origins. Based on the Pacific archeological data we are supposed to accept that sea level took an uncharacteristic drop around 1500 years ago which, one would suppose, corresponded to a concurrent drop in global T. A few questions arise:
1) To what extent should atolls be considered independent of low lying islands in general?
2) Why were the Bahamas never inhabited by Caribs or others, situated so close to other long inhabited islands in the Carribean?
3) How well does an atoll withstand a tsunami or hurricane?
4) How well does archeological evidence on an atoll survive the annihilation of its population in the event of a tsunami?
It seems that low island populations or the lack thereof tell us more about local wave ferocity and storm history than about sea level behavior or atoll formation. Empty Bahamas versus populated Pacific atolls indicate the violence of the Atlantic versus the Pacific. Of course the Azores and Bermuda were never populated because there were no Polynesians in the Atlantic, and of course most Pacific atolls could not have been populated before 3kya because Polynesian navigation had not reached its zenith.
At any rate, the demise of Darwinian atoll theory appears to be highly exaggerated. –AGF

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
March 9, 2012 8:38 pm

From James of the West on March 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm:

WUWT Font appears to be broken (all CAPS and small size – very hard on the eyes, if deliberate its an annoying change). (…)

TomRude said on March 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm:

OT: what’s happening with the font style? Is it my computer or something has changed? thanks

Curious. M$ starts running TV ads about the new and revolutionary IE9 that will dramatically change your internet experience. WUWT readers report their WUWT experience, as served up by wordpress-dot-com, has dramatically changed.
Found in first comment:

REPLY: Nothing wrong on this end, make sure your browser is updated. – Anthony

I propose they should check if their browser is IE, whether it has updated, and if they are set for auto-updates of the IE browser. If their browser isn’t IE and they’re having problems, well, M$ has a history of the recommendation “This site best viewed with Internet Explorer” indicating a site will ONLY work properly with IE. I wouldn’t be surprised if coding changes to accommodate IE9 and incorporate any “enhancements” and “modifications” has reduced functionality with other browsers and earlier versions of IE.
Correlation is not causation, but the timing is still dang suspicious.

March 9, 2012 8:43 pm

Gary Hladik – Islands growing? That only lasts until the high tide level exceeds the early Holocene (dead) coral level. Before that, the coral acts as an anchor and extra sediment can accumulate. Past that, and the “pinned inlets” get overwashed, and the looser sediment on top will go away.
Atoll formation requires rising sea levels (coral building up under sea level) followed by falling sea levels (exposing above water coral that can accumulate sediment). There are “drowned” atolls – those occur when sea level rises faster than coral can build up – but those are a separate case.
These atolls weren’t even inhabitable until 1000-1500 years ago when enough sediment had accumulated to grow vegetation. Continuing sea level rise (and no, I’m not making any assertions about the rate) will quite simply destroy the islands. At a time determined by the rate.
This entire thread, and the earlier one by Willis Eschenbach, are based upon an incorrect conception of how atolls form. And are therefore a complete waste of time..

March 9, 2012 8:45 pm

I will try to get a link but the President of Kiribati was on NPR radio last night. He insisted that the reason they were purchasing land in Fiji was not for migration, but to use for farmland and agriculture as they don’t have room on their own islands for what is needed.

March 9, 2012 8:55 pm

For anyone who would like a taste of life on a Kiribati island, you can’t do better than getting a used copy of J. Maarten Troost’s Sex Lives Of Cannibals.
Troost and his girlfriend spent a couple of years on the island, and he has a very entertaining, very funny travelogue writing style. For those who might think Kiribati would be a nice tropical location to settle down, you’d better read this book first!
It’s hot on the equator, it’s in the middle of nowhere, and disaters routinely happen – like when the monthly beer ship is mistakenly sent to another island a thousand miles away. The Horror! And people lie, cheat and steal to get fresh vegetables. Fresh water is very hard to come by. Really, it’s a great book, and you’ll learn about the truly clownish government officials jockeying for UN loot, including their underwater scuba sessions to dramatize the [false] notion that the island is sinking under the waves. You can probably find it for a few bucks on Amazon. Very entertaining.
[KR, your information regarding Kiribati is incorrect. Atolls like Tarawa rise and fall with the sea level. And Tarawa was inhabited from when the Polynesians first discovered it. The problem is not rising sea level, which is more than matched by the expanding coral growth. The problem is the loss of the fresh water lens. As salt water encroaches due to the depletion of the fresh water lens, plants die and fresh water becomes a critically scarce commodity. The entire native population is kept alive via the generosity of Australia and New Zealand, mostly the former. They are all on the dole, there being almost zero local industry, except for a little copra production. And the population is more dense than Hong Kong.]

Don K
March 9, 2012 9:18 pm

Two minor points:
1. Specific to the Maldives, not to coral islands in general, here’s a picture of the capital, Male.
If that bizarre link doesn’t work, Google “Maldives capital Male” and select images.
Anyway, it appears that there might be a few non-natural barriers to that particular island renewing its coral. If one wants to “protect” the place, moving a lot of the infrastructure to some other rock might be worth considering.
Regarding coral islands in general. A point that I’ve never seen mentioned is that the rock and sand they are “built” of are Calcium Carbonate (limestone). All rocks erode under the forces of temperature change, abrasion from wind blown material, and frequent immersion in a weak polar solvent – water. Limestone is pretty stable. But is is just a bit water soluble. I don’t have numbers, but I suspect that coral islands erode a lot faster than, for example, the metasediments under Manhattan or the clays and silica sediments under London. I would assume that in order to stay above the sea surface, they need to accrete coral debris at some modest rate regardless of whether seal level is rising or falling.

March 9, 2012 9:29 pm

Don K,
The coral atolls have no problem keeping up with the sea level. Corals grow quite fast, much faster than the ≈2mm/year of sea level rise. A much bigger threat is the wholesale killing of parrot fish by the local population. Parrot fish eat the coral, crunching it up in their strong jaws to get at the polyps, and then excrete coral sand which is necessary to build up the reefs. The locals also have the habit of using dynamite to fish. They get their parrot fish and sharks, but the reefs get holes blown in them, allowing the ocean waves to come in and erode more of the reef.

John Kettlewell
March 9, 2012 9:37 pm

wow, amazing photograph

Arizona CJ
March 9, 2012 9:45 pm

The notion of 50 foot high atolls is mentioned, but guess what? We DO have coral-formed islands that high, lots of them. Just one example of many is the Houtman Abrohlos Islands, off central Western Australia. They were reefs and atolls during the Eemian (the interglacial before this one, about 100k years ago) when sea levels were much higher. The reason the sea levels were higher is the climate was far warmer; England, for example, was subtropical, and hippopotamus fossils have been found on the River Thames from this period.
So much for the warmists’ claim that the earth has never been warmer than it is today, not for millions of years. The evidence is all around us.
Why was the climate so much warmer in the Eemian? I don’t know, but I’ll speculate that it wasn’t because of SUVs.

Torgeir Hansson
March 9, 2012 10:08 pm

I’m a little confused by KR’s posts. We’ve had massive sea level rise throughout the Holocene, and to my knowledge this trend has never been broken. How can we then have coral atolls, if only a fall in sea levels will permit them to exist? Am I missing something here? I don’t see how KR’s mid-Holocene paleoreef remnants would not have been submerged a long time ago.
The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong (I suppose it was him) was on NPR today talking about the land purchase on Fiji. He said that it was not to evacuate the population there. It was nothing more than a real-estate purchase they made to diversify Kiribati’s investment portfolio. He was also remarkably vague about climate change and rising sea levels. It sounded like he knew that there wasn’t much going on in that regard.

Torgeir Hansson
March 9, 2012 10:10 pm

…and if observations show us that Kiribati is in fact growing, how does that jive with the KR/Dickinson take on things?

Gary Hladik
March 10, 2012 12:06 am

KR says (March 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm): “This entire thread, and the earlier one by Willis Eschenbach, are based upon an incorrect conception of how atolls form. And are therefore a complete waste of time..”
To paraphrase Galileo, “And yet they grow!”
Stick that in your Pope and smoke it! 🙂

tony thomas
March 10, 2012 1:01 am

One article combines the politics of Tuvalu and the Maldives (pre the coup last month)

March 10, 2012 1:02 am

Great posting. A good one in the line of demystifying increasing storms, droughts, etc. supposedly caused by changes in climate.
The problems of Kiribati are real but they are manmade at a local level. I have visited a few times and every time there are more and more people dependent on the fresh water lens on South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. It resembles the Gaza strip in many ways. Total growth rate of Kiribati is still over 2 pc (Wikipedia) and there are very few economic opportunities on the outer islands apart from cutting copra (coconut meat) and fishing. Hence the move to the small strip of land with increasing pressure on the fresh water lens.
Therefore, the president is right to purchase a piece of stable ground elsewhere, close to where there is already a Kiribati community, displaced because their island (Banaba) was turned into a fosfate mine.

March 10, 2012 3:10 am

None of the South Pacific islands can support their growing populations, and it’s not because of rising sea levels or sinking islands.
80% of Cook Islanders live in New Zealand, Tahiti and Australia because of indigenous land ownership rules and poor local income prospects. Large numbers of Tongans, Samoans, Kiribatis and Fijians also live in Australia/NZ for similar economic and family reasons due to the structure of Polynesian society, which forces younger people to move out and make their own future once certain population levels have been reached. It also has a bit to do with marriage rules. Inheritance allows them to move back later if they wish.
Population growth was the main driver of Polynesian miigration across the Pacific, because basically they killed out the land fauna on every island group from Easter Island to New Zealand for food and clothing, and when the local food sources and water supplies came under pressure it was time for the young ones to move one.
The most recent place this happened was on an island off Vanua Levu in the northern Fiji group, where a group of Gilbert Islanders (Kiribatis) settled about 30 years ago with the permission of locals after money and considerations were paid, but the reason this was allowed was through family connections. (We anchored there about 5 years ago, and got the full story from the locals while we were staying there).
We’ve done a lot of sailing, fishing and diving in the southern Pacific for close on 35 years, and know quite a bit about the societies, the state of coral reefs, and the geological features of the attolls and volcanic groups. Most of what environmental groups say about the region is nonsense.

John Marshall
March 10, 2012 3:44 am

The graphic showing the Maldives will have no meaning for the Pacific because they react slightly differently to sea level drivers. The Indian ocean surface is 140m lower than that of the Pacific due to gravitic differences. yes coral loves sea level rise but dies with sea level falls.
According to Prof Nils Axil Morner, the world authority on sea levels, sea levels have fallen over the past ten years.

March 10, 2012 4:52 am
March 10, 2012 4:56 am

Does Anote Tong wear a white suit and drive a late 70’s white Cadillac convertible? Convincing the people of his nation their land is in danger and they have to move, and to move he… errrr… Kiribati needs a ton of money… sounds like a hokey get even filthier rich plot by Boss Hogg in the “Dukes of Hazzard”.

March 10, 2012 5:07 am

So the [this] claim is not true either. Atolls are created by sea level rise, not destroyed by sea level rise.

Some time ago I tried explaining that point [along with peer reviewed paper] to Warmists at the Guardian but they replied [I paraphrase] “But what if the rate of sea level rise accelerates?” to which I replied that it was currently decelerating and the rest was pure speculation.
I maybe wrong here but I vaguely recall that coral atolls formed at a time of rapidly rising sea levels after the last glacial termination.

March 10, 2012 8:08 am

mareeS says:
March 10, 2012 at 3:10 am
Most remote islands don’t have anything to eat in the way of native land species. A continental island like New Zealand was the exception with its native moas. The fact is, Polynesians brought their food sources with them: pigs, chickens, vegetables, and supplemented that by fishing. This advance preparation ensured a rapid population growth and the necessity of further exploration. It was from the vicinity of Tahiti that the Polynesians branched out to New Zealand, Easter Island and Hawaii, about 1500 years ago. The earlier Indian Ocean colonists were Micronesian.
Like dodos and other flightless birds stranded on islands, the most remote colonizers–Hawaiians and others–quickly lost their seafaring technology, and largely forgot about their origins. Linguistic and other anthropologists are needed to put the puzzle together. But Captain Cook had little trouble piecing the basics together. –AGF

March 10, 2012 10:16 am

Torgeir Hansson – We had a massive sea level rise over the start of the Holocene, the transition between the last ice age and the current interglacial. This flattened out 4K to 8K years ago ( Some regions, in particular the Pacific, had considerably higher sea levels around that time due to post-glacial rebound – the sea floor there rose during the last 4-8 thousand years. Since that time (until quite recently) sea levels have effectively dropped in the Pacific as the sea floor rose.
Corals only grow to sea level – prior to sea level fall they might have had some short term sand cays accumulate on top, but little else, nothing permanent, as coral growth provides the solid underpinning. Crossover (reef-top exposure) for the Kiribati chain, due to isostatic rebound sea level fall, is estimated at ~1000 years ago, at which point more solid accumulations could begin as the coral reef came above high-tides. There’s no credible evidence of habitation prior to that. Some of the Caroline islands might have had crossover closer to ~1500 years ago, and hence earlier accumulations and earlier habitation.
While the coral understructure is above high-tide sea level, it provides a stable underpinning to the islands. Hence they can accumulate more or less consolidated top-cover (coral debris and sediment) depending on local conditions. That’s the “growth” several people have pointed to. But with sea level rise, once high tide tops that coral understructure, top-cover will get rapidly eroded. Sea level doesn’t have to submerge an island to destroy it – it just has to submerge the foundation. And that includes the “fresh water lens”, which is likely to fail when crossover occurs and erosion affects the top-cover.
Current prediction for Kiribati crossover (in the bad direction) is late 21st century to mid 22nd century or so, depending entirely on sea level rise rates.

March 10, 2012 10:47 am

WRT sea level fall, which provided reef-top exposure and the original growth (in this interglacial) of atoll islands, it’s worth looking at Mitrovica and Milne 2002 ( – “On the origin of late Holocene sea-level highstands within equatorial ocean basins”
This discusses the glacial isostatic adjustments that led to a decline in sea level over the last 8 thousand years, creating the atoll islands.

March 10, 2012 9:39 pm

KR appeals to a theory which requires that atolls are as ephemerous as smoke rings geologically speaking. I gather they can exist no more than 5 – 10% of the time if they can appear only by exposure due to falling sea level. I propose a test far superior to archeological evidence of human habitation: avian habitation. If lagoon cores show recent evidence of eggshells or feathers but none prior to 2ka, I would be inclined to accept his authors’ interpretation. If such a study has been done, we would appreciate being directed to it. If not, we can only deplore the theorists’ general inability to get to the bottom of the problem. –AGF

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