Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve written before about the study of Arthur Webb and Paul Kench regarding the fact that coral atolls are not being swallowed by rising seas. Their conclusion in that study was that the claims of sinking atolls were contradicted by the actual measurements of the islands in question. The measurements showed the islands were mostly either growing in size or staying the same (emphasis mine):
The results show that island area has remained largely stable or increased over the timeframe of analysis. Forty-three percent of islands increased in area by more than 3% with the largest increases of 30% on Betio (Tarawa atoll) and 28.3% on Funamanu (Funafuti atoll [the main atoll in Tuvalu – w.] ). There is no evidence of large scale reduction in island area despite the upward trend in sea level. Consequently, islands have predominantly been persistent or expanded in area on atoll rims for the past 20 to 60 years.
Well, the good news is that Paul Kench has not abjured his scientific habits. His latest study is entitled “Spatiotemporal variability of typhoon impacts and relaxation intervals on Jaluit Atoll, Marshall Islands” (paywalled here). Jaluit is in the tropical North Pacific. It is an atoll composed of a large number of small coral islets. From the Abstract (emphasis mine):
Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands was struck by Typhoon Ophelia in A.D. 1958, causing significant geomorphic change to reef islands. Using aerial photographs as well as recent satellite imagery we track the impacts of the typhoon and the multidecadal recovery of islands. Ophelia caused a significant reduction in total land area of Jaluit Atoll, from 9.95 km2 to 9.45 km2 (–5.1%), with islands on the northeast rim collectively reducing in size from 4.72 km2 to 4.14 km2 (–12.2%). Between 1976 and 2006, 73 of 87 islands increased in size, with the total landmass exceeding the pre-typhoon area (10.25 km2).
In my post entitled “Floating Islands“, I described a coral atoll as being a momentary hesitation in a slow-motion river of coral sand and rubble. This river of sand and rubble is made up of broken-up bits of the reef that surrounds the atoll. The sand and rubble is constantly being driven by waves and storms and winds up onto the atoll … and at the same time the same storms are eroding the coral sand and rubble off the atoll and back into the ocean. The atolls exist in a dynamic balance between accretion and erosion.
The dynamic nature of the balance is well illustrated by the latest Kench study. A large cyclone came through in 1958, and blew some parts of these precarious piles of sand and rubble into the ocean. This reduced their size. But since the original conditions of oceanfloor topography and wind and wave still prevailed, the ocean merely piled new coral sand and rubble back up into the same locations, actively rebuilding the atoll islands in their previous locations on their previous foundations.
So no, the atolls are not in danger of being swallowed up by the ocean. To the contrary, they are constantly being rebuilt and repaired by the ocean. So … why are we receiving reports of trouble in paradise, of rising seas and eroding islands?
The reason is that when the reef is not healthy, the river of coral sand and rubble slows down … and since the atolls exist in a dynamic balance, any reduction in the amount of incoming coral sand and rubble will cause the atoll to erode away.
Generally, the reasons for the reef not being healthy boil down to a combination of overfishing, pollution, and coral mining. These are all solvable. In my post “Floating Islands” I laid out a whole host of things that the islanders can do to maintain the integrity of their atolls, along with the relevant links … but unfortunately, the fatuous idea that the islands are sinking is firmly embedded in the alarmosphere.
Which is why I am bringing all this up again. The “sinking atolls” meme is harder to kill than a vampire when you are fresh out of wooden stakes, with the New York Times flogging the same old dead horse once again, viz:
A Remote Pacific Nation, Threatened by Rising Seas
Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of the people of tiny Kiribati, and even the island nation’s existence. The government is making plans for the island’s demise.
By MIKE IVES
JULY 2, 2016
Nonsense. Horsefeathers. Greenrinsed insanity. Coral atolls are NOT threatened by rising seas, that is a sick fantasy.
Ah, well. One AM of a foggy night here, with a waning moon just risen and fighting hard to get through the mist. Keep fighting the good fight, dear friends, and stay well-stocked up with garlic and oak stakes … it’s gonna be a long one.
My Usual Request: We can minimize misunderstandings by being specific. If you disagree with me or anyone, please quote the exact words you disagree with, so we can all understand the precise nature of your objections. I can defend my own words. I cannot defend someone else’s interpretation of some unidentified words of mine.
My Other Request: If you believe that e.g. I’m using the wrong method or the wrong dataset, please educate me and others by demonstrating the proper use of the right method or identifying the right dataset. Simply claiming I’m wrong about methods or data doesn’t advance the discussion unless you can point us to the right way to do it.
Further Reading On The Actual Kiribati Situation
So Many People … So Little Rain 2012-03-10
Well, I started a post on Kiribati, but when it was half written I found Andi Cockroft had beaten me to it with his post. His analysis was fine, but I had a different take on the events. President Tong of Kiribati says the good folk of the atolls are…