Study: Pacific Islands Will Survive Climate Change

A beach at Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu, on a sunny day. Author Stefan Lins, source Wikimedia
A beach at Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu, on a sunny day. Author Stefan Lins, source Wikimedia

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Who could have imagined that islands which survived rapid sea level rise at the end of the last ice age have no problem coping with changes in sea level?

Media Release
From: University of Auckland

Pacific atolls can adapt to rising seas and extreme storms – new study

Low-lying Pacific islands in atoll archipelagos such as Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati are likely to adapt to the effects of climate change rather than simply sink beneath the waves, a new study shows.

Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati are widely considered under threat from rising seas and severe storms due to climate change with their residents becoming ‘climate refugees’.

Researchers from the University of Auckland’s School of Environment recreated a scale model of tiny Fatato Island on the southeast rim of Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu to test the ability of the real island to withstand predicted climate affects.

The study simulated higher sea levels and storm-generated waves up to 4m in a 20m-long water chute or ‘flume’ to replicate real-world sea levels of 0.5m and 1m in a purpose built laboratory at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

The team chose uninhabited Fatato as a model because they were able to create an accurate 1:50 scale replica using data collected from previous field surveys and research. In the real world, the tiny island is just 90m at its widest point and 860m long. The scale replica created for the laboratory tests was 0.6m wide, 2.6m long with a highest point of 10cm.
Using lasers to closely monitor changes in the model, and translating those to a real-world scenario, the researchers found the crest of the island – its highest ground – actually increased 1.13m height as higher sea levels and strong wave action washed sand and gravel toward it.
While that elevation was achieved at the expense of lower-lying areas, simultaneously reducing the amount of low-lying land as the crest got higher. But that might not happen in the real world where islands are continually replenished by sediment from the surrounding reef.
Importantly, the island also moved laterally, migrating across the coral reef as sand and gravel shifted position with the action of waves and higher water levels.

Lead author and University of Auckland doctoral candidate Megan Tuck says the findings, along with previous research, has profound implications for understanding the physical vulnerability of reef islands and challenges the assumption that they will simply drown.

“Atoll islands do not sit inert on the reef, instead the gravel and sand they are made up of shifts on the reef itself so that the land changes in response to environmental conditions. Interestingly, the elevation of the atoll crest – the highest ground – mirrored the rise in sea levels which suggests sea level may be an important controlling factor on island elevation.”

Co-researcher Dr Murray Ford, also from the University of Auckland, says the study shows islands are more resilient than previously thought, able to change shape or physically adjust to higher sea levels and more severe storms.

“While the effect on particular islands of climate-induced changes will vary, there is plenty of evidence to suggest these islands are more resilient than commonly thought,” he says.

“The effects on individual islands will vary so that while some areas may become uninhabitable, while areas will keep pace with rising seas. It will be up to governments and communities to decide how to respond over time but we think this study highlights the fact that nature provides a template for adaptation and island communities may need to adapt too.”
Previous research by the team, which used aerial photos going back as far as 1943 to track changes to the 101 islands that make up the Tuvalu archipelago, found that overall there was a net gain in land area of 2.9 percent or 73.5ha over the past 40 years.

Professor Paul Kench, formerly of the University of Auckland, now at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and Professor Gerd Masselink from the University of Plymouth were co-researchers in the study, published by the Geological Society of America in Geology.

Read more:

The abstract of the study;

Physical modelling of the response of reef islands to sea-level rise
Megan E. TuckPaul S. KenchMurray R. FordGerd Masselink

Geology (2019)

Sea-level rise and increased storminess are expected to destabilize low-lying reef islands formed on coral reef platforms, and increased flooding is expected to render them uninhabitable within the coming decades. Such projections are founded on the assumption that islands are geologically static landforms that will simply drown as sea-level rises. Here, we present evidence from physical model experiments of a reef island that demonstrates islands have the capability to morphodynamically respond to rising sea level through island accretion. Challenging outputs from existing models based on the assumption that islands are geomorphologically inert, results demonstrate that islands not only move laterally on reef platforms, but overwash processes provide a mechanism to build and maintain the freeboard of islands above sea level. Implications of island building are profound, as it will offset existing scenarios of dramatic increases in island flooding. Future predictive models must include the morphodynamic behavior of islands to better resolve flood impacts and future island vulnerability.

Read more:

The alleged global warming threat to coral systems and Pacific islands has got to rank amongst the most implausible of the climate community’s claims. It is encouraging that more scientists are plucking up the courage to point out the obvious.

Update (EW): Dr K A Rodgers points out that Charles Darwin proposed coral reefs are dynamic structures in 1842. You would think almost 200 years would be long enough for the climate community to catch on.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tom Halla
July 17, 2019 10:08 am

The question I would ask, does coral grow at a faster rate than the sea level rise? The answer is rather like the rhetorical inquiry as to the toilet habits of ursine mammals.

Reply to  Tom Halla
July 17, 2019 11:09 am


Tarawa is a coral atoll formed on top of a volcanic seamount which rises steeply from 4000 m of water. The atoll is roughly triangular in plan and comprises a chain of small islands on the south and northeast sides which partially enclose a central lagoon (Fig. 2). The islands are generally 2-3 m above present sea level. The surface material of most of the islands is coral sand. In places, cemented coral hardpan forms a terrace 1.5-2 m above sea level. The first four bores drilled on Bonriki and Buariki intersected coral sand to depths of 7.5-11.5 m below the ground surface (Appendix 1). Beneath the sand, these bores intersected buried coral reef, 1.5-12.0 m thick. Beneath the buried coral reef, some of the bores encountered interbedded limestone and sand; others had a limestone sequence extending to 30 m below surface, the maximum depth of drilling. The total thickness of the limestone sequence is unknown. ^The nearest atoll to Tarawa that has previously been drilled is Funafuti in the Ellice Islands (Fig. 1), where volcanic basement was not encountered even at 330 m. The nearest atoll where basement has been intersected is Enewetok in the Marshall Islands, where basalt was encountered beneath 1300 m of limestone.

Tarawa was 2-3 m above sea level in 1981… What is it today? “Highest elevation 3 m (10 ft)

What was the elevation when the U.S. Marine Corps landed in 1943?

Intelligence reports from Betio were sobering. The island, devoid of natural defilade positions and narrow enough to limit maneuver room, favored the defenders. Betio was less than three miles long, no broader than 800 yards at its widest point and contained no natural elevation higher than 10 feet above sea level. “Every place on the island can be covered by direct rifle and machine gun fire.” observed Edson.

Betio, Tarawa Atoll 1943

Betio, Tarawa Atoll today

R Shearer
Reply to  Tom Halla
July 17, 2019 11:41 am

Coral is constrained by sea level as it doesn’t like to dry out and there is no such thing as a land shark.

Tom Halla
Reply to  R Shearer
July 17, 2019 11:45 am

Obviously the actual rise towards the surface will be constrained by that surface. If the coral can, not actually does, but can, grow faster than the sea level rise rate, the atoll will grow.

Reply to  R Shearer
July 17, 2019 4:19 pm

there is no such thing as a land shark

That’s what they want you to think.

Reply to  MarkW
July 17, 2019 8:12 pm

It’s the right hand turning land sharks you have to worry about.

July 17, 2019 10:34 am

It’s like the alarmists assume that the world has always been as it is now. Twenty thousand years ago, the blink of an eye in geologic time, the oceans were 120 meters (around 400 feet) lower than they are now. link Clearly, the elevation of those islands with reference to modern sea level is not a coincidence.

Reply to  commieBob
July 17, 2019 11:13 am

120m/20000yr is 0.6m/100yr. That is more, 6mm/yr, than what’s going on right now. So reefs can take 6mm/yr. So everything is OK so far.

Jeff in Calgary
Reply to  Hugs
July 17, 2019 12:15 pm

Most of that 120m happened right at the beginning, not over 20,000yr. And currently we are at closer to 3mm/yr.,

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
July 17, 2019 5:14 pm

Just for the record, the rate of sea level rise for Kiribati is just over 1mm per year since 1949(by my calculation).

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
July 18, 2019 12:40 pm

Even during the faster period of sea level rise, which was Meltwater Pulse 1A, sea level likely rose between 16 and 25 meters, over something like 400 or 500 years.
This comes to a sea level rise rate of between 32 millimeters per year and 62.5 millimeters per year.
That is somewhat less than 1.25″/yr, to ~2.5″/yr.
Checking rates of coral growth, one can easily find many references to a typical rate at a typical reef of 8 mm/yr or so.
Other sources list rates far higher that have been documented.
As much as 414mm/yr.
One NASA source says that massive corals commonly grow around 20mm/yr, and branching corals far faster at 100mm/yr.
But typical rates when sea level is barely changing says nothing about what happens when the light is decreasing as the sea rises.
Plants commonly stretch under such conditions, and grow more compactly when they do not need to stretch to reach more light.
This same NASA reference says it takes 100,000 years or more for a reef to form.
And yet we know that ever reef in the world that is near the surface has necessarily grown in the past 5000 to 8000 years.
Any right at the surface are newer than that, because 8k years ago, sea level was 20 meters lower! Over 60 feet deep, only 8000 years ago.
So NASA is proven by their own words to be completely full of crap.
During the previous interglacials, sea level was commonly many meters higher than now. Are we to believe that hundreds of atolls are all a few meters above sea level at the present time by mere coincidence?
No one who is using logic and common sense would believe such a thing. Which is why even 150 years ago, people knew that these islands must be in dynamic equilibrium with the level of the sea.
Everyone who has studied the relevant subject material has long learned of this.
But like many subjects of learning, this knowledge has apparently been lost to the education system in the past 30 years.
And the only people who managed to retain this knowledge are the climate skeptics…the same ones who failed to forget pretty much all that has long been known about physical geography and Earth history, like everyone else in government and academia did, around the same time there began to be loads of money and jobs available…but only for climate alarmists of course.

Obviously however fast the sea has risen in the past 12,000 years, coral growth and sand formation and deposition has been able to keep up with it.

I have not looked for info on how long the present biota of these atolls has been present on them, or at what rate will plants and animals be reasonably expected to find atolls and begin to live there.
Or how long ago they were peopled.
For any of them that have a significant presence of anything that is not able to easily drift long distances in seed form, or be passed by birds as such, one must account for a much longer period of time for colonization by biota by such rare events as rafting.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 18, 2019 1:00 pm

However all really large reefs have grown over several interglacials. Usually over the last seven or so (c. 800,000 years), when the sea-level has been more or less the same each time.

Of course they have also been on dry land and dead about 90% of the time, but that doesn’t really matter, they start growing again in the same place the next interglacial.

During the glaciations sea-level is pretty unstable so the corals move up and down the slopes, probably without forming any really massive reefs.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 18, 2019 4:59 pm

Yeah, but what happens for the 100-150k years the reefs are dry land?
Look at what has grown up where the ice sheets used to be, in terms of soil and plant life?
And these are in northern places where we might suppose soil formation takes a while more.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 12:30 pm

Take a look at Florida Keys, they are a coral reef from the previous interglacial (125,000 years). Soil formation on pure, bare limestone doesn’t happen fast. Once underwater the old reefs are quickly re-colonized

Reply to  commieBob
July 17, 2019 12:06 pm

In the lead-in to the Holocene, the oceans – according to the IPCC – rose 120m in 21,000 years. That’s 5.7mm per year for 21 centuries. The idea that coral reefs could be killed off by half that rate for a single century is preposterous.

Reply to  Mike Jonas
July 17, 2019 12:08 pm

Sorry – millenia not centuries. (preposterous * 10).

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Mike Jonas
July 18, 2019 12:48 pm

Something like 100 meters of the rise occurred in a period of something like 7000 years, ging from around 110 meters below present sea level 15k years ago, to around 10 meters or so below current sea level by about 6-7000 years ago.
This is a much faster rate. And most of the rise during this interval took place during distinct pulses, 4 or so major ones, with Meltwater Pulse 1A generally agreed to have been fastest, with a rate of rise of an inch or two a year most likely.
If at any time, any island became completely submerged, and terrestrial life on it must have drifted there since the time it became dry land again.
This further constrains what must have been the case, based on the simple fact of the islands and the life being there.

Reply to  commieBob
July 17, 2019 1:23 pm

Actually during the glacial maximum those atolls were about 100 m high limestone islands with a central slightly depressed plateau and coral reefs way down on the flanks. Most of the time the corals just had to move upslope until the sea-level stabilized and the could start building large reefs.

Such “raised atolls” still exist, e. g. Lifu, Henderson island and Niue.

By the way the fact that such “raised atolls” are so rare and only occur where tectonic forces has raised them fairly conclusively proves that sea-level has not been much higher than now during previous interglacials. Otherwise all atolls would be “raised”.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tty
July 18, 2019 7:22 pm

How much erosion will occur on a steep cliff of soft coral hardpan, sand, and the sediment offshore of these islands today?
Tropical rains, steep terrain, soft basement, 100-150 thousands years like this?
Probably the sea level drops gradually, but still.
I am not sure how fast, but the underlying sea mounts are sinking into the crust continuously.
Note that on Eniwetok, the basalt is over a full mile down.
Evidence indicates sea mounts and volcanos and atolls subside at up to several millimeters per year, due to isostatic settling and crustal cooling and contraction.
Other reckoning posits that subsidence from all causes lowers the top of a seamount by about 5 km in 60 million years, and subsidence is of course much faster the higher and more massive a feature is.
Subsidence of just1 millimeter per year will lower an atoll, over 100,000 years of an interglacial, by 100 meters.
I have been meaning to learn more about this, as it is really an interesting subject.
Sea mounts in general are probably major players in all sorts of processes that play out over geological time.
It is thought the deep water corals, for example, that grow from the sides of seamounts have a total global area as large as Europe.
Hydrothermal activity leading to mineral enrichment takes place in all of them, and will make them the site of mining in the near future. Some sea mounts have been found to contain gold ore as rich as 250 grams per ton. And mot have never even been looked at.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 12:41 pm

There certainly is erosion of coral limestone. The surface of such “raised atolls” is often extremely difficult to traverse due to small-scale karstification.

And you are right that volcanic islands sink over time. Sometimes the corals can’t keep up, and the result is then a “guyot”, a sea-mount with a flat top that was once an atoll. Here is something interesting, an anti-guyot, this is an atoll that has ended up on dry land in the Afar triangle, an uplifted part of the Red sea bottom:

July 17, 2019 10:39 am

Pacific Islan Folk are hardy and down-to-Earth people who will have no difficulty dealing with any variation in the climate. Pacific Island people got where they are by undertaking long hazardous ocean voyages in tiny sea craft. After that, Climate Change ‘ is a push-over.

Andy Espersen
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
July 17, 2019 7:19 pm

Well, perhaps. They may, of course, live to having to show their hardiness when all their concrete buildings, international airports and asphalted roads which they foolishly built over the last 40 years to accommodate their many tourists, get covered with sand – while their islands rise with the sea levels.

That will prove how hardy they are.

July 17, 2019 11:03 am

Sediment transport … geotectonic uplift … coral reef building … mangrove roots trapping sediment and building new uplands … all of these processes have been ongoing since, well, for hundreds of millions of years, at least. Which is why we still have lots of tiny atolls and reefs and islands and islets throughout all the shallow sea areas of the world. Despite a climate that warmed a helluva lot in every single interglacial period, all two dozen of them in the last 2.6 million years.

Islands are formed, islands are washed away, they grow, they shrink, and they always have.

This is a shock?

Reply to  Duane
July 17, 2019 1:29 pm

“every single interglacial period, all two dozen of them in the last 2.6 million years.”

More like 50:

Reply to  tty
July 18, 2019 8:11 am

Two dozen in 2.6 mya is the established number. The chart you linked to shows minor peaks that occur within a major glaciation or interglacial era … like the Little Ice Age or the Younger Dryas.

Reply to  Duane
July 18, 2019 12:15 pm

Interglacials the last 2.6 million years:
MIS 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 83, 85, 87, 89, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 101

I make that 49 interglacials. There are a few dubious cases: MIS 31 and 33 are sometimes considered as one long interglacial and MIS 100 is sometimes considered to mark the beginning of the Pleistocene in which case MIS 101 is Pliocene, so perhaps only 47.

And no, I haven’t double-counted, multiple-peaked interglacials like MIS 5.1, 5.3 and 5.5 or 7.1, 7.3 and 7.5.

July 17, 2019 11:11 am

WELLINGTON: The Pacific’s low-lying reef islands are likely to change shape in response to climate change, rather than simply sinking beneath rising seas and becoming uninhabitable as previously assumed, new research has found.

On the other hand:
Gravity observations confirm that Louisiana is sinking
Louisiana is officially sinking. It has been 29 years since the National Geodetic Survey, or NGS, measured the state’s subsidence. After completing four absolute gravity observations this past year, with the help of LSU’s Center for Geoinformatics, or C4G, the NGS’s most recent findings show the state’s change in elevation.

Reply to  Vuk
July 17, 2019 1:31 pm

The whole eastern seabord of the US, from Maine to the Rio Grande is sinking. This has been well known for many decades.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tty
July 19, 2019 4:02 am

You are incorrect about the entire East coast, and the Gulf coast is not part of the East coast anyway.

Florida is not sinking. It is rising.

Glacial isostatic rebound is occurring a far south as the VA./N.C line or so.

Where the glacier was thickest and melted away last, uplift is fastest.

There is hinge effect, with the axis of the hinge a diffuse arc through New England.

South of an arc from roughly southern Mass. through the Great Lakes region and northwestward from there, land is being drawn down. Along the hinge there is little or no vertical movement due to glacial rebound, and north of there, in Mass and Maine and points west, the crust is rising.

Different sources are not broadly consistent as to the exact details, but here is one which shows the general pattern most agree n:

Reply to  tty
July 19, 2019 12:52 pm

You may be right about southern Florida, but northern Florida is definitely sinking, as is the entire Gulf Coast.

And, no there is no glacial isostatic rebound that far south. Unless you count the sinking of the forebulge as “rebound”, that sinking probably extends even further south than you state. “Hinge-line” is hardly the right word. The zero line between sinking and uplift does go through the Great lakes and New England and reaches the coast close to the US/Canadian border. The details are as you say uncertain. There has been much less study of glacial isostasy in North America than in Northern Europe.

July 17, 2019 11:14 am

Corals are more resilient than weepy “climate scientists” (whatever the h3ll ‘climate scientist’ means) who weep in their scuba masks for the bleached corals that have no voice to cry out for social justice.

Reply to  icisil
July 17, 2019 2:36 pm

A little context…

It’s the End of their World as They Know It

Reply to  icisil
July 18, 2019 5:02 am

Those “scientists” are full-on insane!
““Maybe I’ve become better at suppressing my feelings…I can still see this is really tragic: Fossil fuel emissions killed 90 percent of this reef.” He seems to share a vision issue Greta has in seeing CO2.
“Cobb called on her colleagues to combine their research with public engagement: “We have for too long as scientists rested on the assumption that by providing indisputable facts and great data that we are…counter[ing] the forces against science.”
Well, that’s his problem. There are few indisputable facts in science and they have proved very little if anything, at this point.
“During the recent wildfires in California, where he lives, Kalmus became irritable because the link between natural disasters and climate change was not front and center in media coverage. ”
This one is my favorite since wildfires have decreased in this century and are natural and essential for forest health and the forests have been horribly mismanaged, especially, by the tree huggers in Calif. who have hugged them to death and the State Gov. who prefers to spend money on trains to nowhere than on managing their forests.
These people are not scientists, the are religious fanatics.

Reply to  icisil
July 18, 2019 10:55 am

Talking about being unable to get out of bed to care for your four children and bursting into tears regularly while talking about your work and taking valium and then claiming “I”m not clinically depressed”. Okay.

Frederick Michael
July 17, 2019 11:57 am

Willis explained this long ago in an article about Parrot Fish.

Tom Foley
July 17, 2019 12:18 pm

Now let’s run the analysis with an inhabited island, and see how efficient humans are at shifting their houses and agriculture as the sediments of the island are eroded at lower points and redeposited uphill. We’re known for a long time how coral atolls grew upwards as sea level rises so the results reported here are unsurprising. The issue is how human populations will cope.

There’s no doubt the Polynesians were hardy explorers, but they didn’t reach the Pacific islands until well after the post-glacial sea level rise. In the past they might have coped with an environmental challenge on their island by sailing to another (or they might have died). What now, when all islands will be effected and all are owned by other people who are also being challenged? There are higher volcanic islands, but their inhabitants might not welcome boat people from low atolls. Polynesians were warriors as well as mariners.

Reply to  Tom Foley
July 17, 2019 1:36 pm

Actually most of the low islands were only settled after the Early Holocene highstand had passed. Many lost their freshwater lenses during the highstand and were uninhabitable.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tty
July 19, 2019 4:20 am

You might want to cite a source, or at least not state things in declarative terms which are not widely agreed upon as factual.
I for one do not believe this is the case.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 4:37 am

Sea level was 1-3 meters higher than it is today as recently as 3,000 years ago. The Holocene Highstand was roughly from 7,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Most of the human migrations occurred as sea level was falling during Neoglaciation…

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 1:21 pm

I would say that it is widely agreed on as factual. The chronology of settlement in the Pacific is fairly well known (including the 1,500 year “pause” before East Polynesia was settled), as is the sea-level history, but here are a few references:

For a good summary of this, and a lot of excellent information on Pacific islands in general I strongly recommend David Steadman’s “Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds”

Reply to  Tom Foley
July 18, 2019 5:06 am

Their ability to use their heads and adapt may be severely compromised by the expectation of money from the 1st world i.e. the US via the UN to compensate them for any losses they may or may not suffer.

July 17, 2019 12:26 pm

You won’t read about this in the Guardian.

July 17, 2019 12:39 pm

As I was reading the comments, I kept thinking about Parrot Fish.
They eat coral reefs and excrete sandy coral beaches.
Happening for a very long time.

Reply to  Bob Hoye
July 17, 2019 1:37 pm

And if people eat all the parrot fish, there will be no more coral sand, and the sea will wash the islands away….

July 17, 2019 1:07 pm

“Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati are widely considered under threat from rising seas and severe storms due to climate change”

I think they have missed something. While Tuvalu may be hit by hurricanes very occasionally, Tokelau and Kiribati won’t. They are too close to the Equator. Hurricanes require Coriolis force to organize the flow into the tight spiral. There is zero Coriolis force at the Equator.

So hurricanes never start near the Equator, they die away if they come too close to the Equator, and they never never cross the Equator since they would have to start rotating the other way:

comment image

Reply to  tty
July 17, 2019 8:57 pm

Storms have formed near the equator in recent times as shown in these write-ups–

Rare events I grant you but strange things sometimes happen.

Reply to  tom0mason
July 18, 2019 5:00 am

You didn’t bother to check the geography did you? One of those two storms was in the Santa Cruz islands, 10 degrees south, the other E of Guam 15 degrees north. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Storms can very occasionally occur near the Equator, but never hurricanes. That 2001 cyclone – with an estimated 100-to-400 year recurrence inerval – was far below hurricane strength.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tty
July 19, 2019 4:46 am

Funny how we have had three of these 100-400 year storms, or close to them, since 1956.
It sees to almost certainly wrong to speculate about such events being once in 400 years, when we have only had the means to detect all remote storms since the satellite era began.
And there has been one that spanned the equator, and two more than came very close, since the mid 1950s.
I think before the mid to late 1960s, such a storm could have easily been missed.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tty
July 19, 2019 4:49 am

Not ” for below a hurricane”:

“Though Vamei was officially designated as a tropical storm, its intensity is disputed; some agencies classify it as a typhoon, based on sustained winds of 120 km/h (75 mph) and the appearance of an eye.”

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  tom0mason
July 19, 2019 1:38 am

Generally, hurricanes cannot form or persist within about 5°of the equator due to lac of Coriolis.
It as thought to be impossible, but a few years ago a single hurricane did form near the equator, and then moved south and crossed it.
And there was another that was only a 3.3° N latitude. That was over 60 years ag.
So it is not a “climate change” or global warming thing, just very rare.

Here is a map of all tropical cyclones, making it clear they do not form near the equator very often.
But Coriolis is needed to get rotation started. One rotating, an air mass can contract to intensify spin w/o additional input of rotational energy:
comment image

A few storms that were exceptions:

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 1:39 am

Sorry, keyboard is bad.
Should be “It was thought to be impossible…”

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 19, 2019 3:42 am

Mods, have one stuck in moderation due to numerous included links in the comment.
-Me, Nicholas

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  tom0mason
July 19, 2019 7:43 pm
Tom Foley
Reply to  tty
July 18, 2019 7:24 am

Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati will never be hit by hurricanes, not because they are close to the equator, but because they are in the southern hemisphere. The first two have been hit by a number of cyclones. Kiribati, latitude 3 degrees south, has not been directly hit, but has been affected by storms caused by cyclones to the south.

Tuvalu: 8 degrees South
Cyclones in 1883. 1886, 1894; an average of three cyclones per decade 1940s to 1970s. (Some sources say several (unnamed) cyclones hit Tuvalu in the 1980s, but these may have been tropical storms caused by cyclones nearby. )
1972 Cyclone Bebe
1979 Cyclone Meli
1990 Cyclone Ofa
1996–97 Cyclones Gavin, Hina, Keli
2015 Cyclone Pam

Tokelau: 9 degrees south
1914 The Great Cyclone.
1941: 2 cyclones
1966: 1 cyclone
1981 Cyclone Esau
1987 Cyclones Tusi and Wini
1990 Cyclone Ofa
1991 Cyclone Val
2005 Cyclone Percy

This data comes from several sources, starting with Wikipedia. Although focussed on Tokelau, the following report gives a broad account of cyclone patterns and tracks in that part of the Pacific.
This study was prompted by the damage caused by Cyclone Percy in 2005:

Reply to  Tom Foley
July 18, 2019 12:46 pm

You should perhaps read up on the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane. A nor’easter is a cyclone and so is a dust-devil for that matter. A (tropical) hurricane is a tropical cyclone with a wind strength of at least 118 km/h.

And if you check the track of “Percy” it didn’t hit Tokelau. It passed well to the south before hitting Samoa and the Cook Islands.

And you should try reading your links before posting. That report does not give “a broad account of cyclone patterns and tracks in that part of the Pacific.” That report is here:

And if you read it you will see that Tokelau is on the extreme edge of the area affected by tropical cyclones.

Tom Foley
Reply to  tty
July 18, 2019 7:44 pm

My understanding is that a hurricane and a cyclone (and a typhoon) are basically the same phenomena – the nomenclature difference relates to their location. They are rotating storms that develop in the tropics; they rotate clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. They are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, typhoons in the Northwest Pacific, and cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. So yes, the clockwise rotating storms that occur in the area south of the equator to the northeast of Australia are technically ‘cyclones’, and they are given formal cyclone names, like Cyclone Percy. Some sources say all types are ‘tropical cyclones’, other sources restrict this term to southern hemisphere cyclones.

As an Australian I have always known that they were cyclones in the southern hemisphere and hurricanes in the northern hemisphere, if only because virtually any references here to cyclones included a comment that they are called hurricanes in the northern hemisphere (and rotate the other way). Being in the southern hemisphere I guess we are much more aware of and sensitive to the differences than people who live in the north. In fact, we are multilingual here, we grow up with both Australian and American (due to Hollywood): tap=faucet, footpath=sidewalk, cyclone=hurricane – my son at age 4 pointed out that you only pronounced the 26th letter of the alphabet as ‘zee’ rather than ‘zed’ when you were watching Sesame Street and other American TV programs.

But some terms are unfamiliar – I had never heard of a ‘nor-easter’ and had to look that up; my lack of knowledge is due to the term being a localised one in the North Atlantic, but isn’t it technically a hurricane given that it rotates counter-clockwise? The term ‘dust-devil’ is self-evident but I have never heard the term used here (and I live in an arid area with a lot of dust) – we call them willy-willys.

We have some conflict in Australia over terminology; the ‘experts’ try and get us to use the standard meteorological names (mostly northern hemisphere) but the people insist on sticking with their local ones. Here is an Australian website telling us we are wrong about dust-devils!
Here is a lesson on tornadoes As the article says, they are more commonly called ‘mini-cyclone’ or ‘mini-tornado’ here.

Yes, I did post the wrong link. The correct one gives the tracks of cyclones within 150k and 300k of Tokelau. It may be technically correct that most cyclones did not ‘hit’ Tokelau, that is the eye of the cyclone did not go directly over the island, but cyclones were close enough to cause great damage. The issue under discussion was whether Tuvalu, Tokelau were too close to the equator to be hit by cyclones. I was commenting on your statement: “While Tuvalu may be hit by hurricanes very occasionally, Tokelau and Kiribati won’t. ” Tuvalu and Tokelau are at about the same latitude, and are within (if at the edge of ) where cyclones (the southern hemisphere version of hurricanes) track, so have the same likelihood. Kiribati is closer to the equator and so does not.

Reply to  Tom Foley
July 19, 2019 1:37 pm

A hurricane and a typhoon is the same thing. Hurricane was the term used in the Atlantic and Typhoon in the Pacific, but nowadays hurricane is normaly used in the Pacific as well.

And a hurricane is a type of very powerful cyclone, but cyclone is a much wider concept.

And to make things even more confused, what we usually call a hurricane is actually a tropical hurricane, because a hurricane without any qualification is really any storm with a sustained wind over 64 knots (117 km/h, 33 m/s). For example the only two hurricanes I have personally experienced were both in the Southern ocean. Cyclonic, yes, but anything but tropical.

Theoretically you could even have non-cyclonic hurricanes. I think that katabatic winds in Antarctica (which are anticyclonic) occasionally reach hurricane force.

July 17, 2019 2:11 pm

wait! if I have learned nothing from this blog (highly likely), it is to distrust Science (think about that for a min, and what it implies about the the person and what s/he “trusts” :-)).

Now “Science” tells me something vaguely comforting about Climate Change. Am I supposed to Trust this Science while distrusting all the other Science?

confused …

Reply to  chris
July 17, 2019 4:23 pm

That you’ve learned nothing from this blog is confirmed. That you’ve learned nothing, ever, is highly suspect.

Once again the troll fails to recognize sarcasm when hit over the head with it.

Dr K.A. Rodgers
July 17, 2019 2:16 pm

“Who could have imagined that islands which survived rapid sea level rise at the end of the last ice age have no problem coping with changes in sea level?” ….

… Charles Darwin

July 17, 2019 3:07 pm

At last scientists have done some research that disproves a very common meme that the Pacific coral atolls will all disappear beneath the waves .
Good on them that they have been brave enough to tell the truth and have been able to published the facts.
Willem de Lange a sea level scientist from Waikato University in Hamilton NZ told us the same facts and his research showed that as the sea level rose the beaches grew, the same as what these researchers found .
Willem stated that the true sea level rise is 1.5 mm per year and the often quoted 3mm per year is taken from
satellite measurements and they are overstated by 100%.
As land rises the sea attacks the beaches and if land is sinking the beaches expand which is the opposite of what most people would expect .

July 17, 2019 5:38 pm

> Interestingly, the elevation of the atoll crest – the highest ground – mirrored the rise in sea levels which suggests sea level may be an important controlling factor on island elevation.

Bizarre. And amazing. We still know so little about the effects of “climate change”. But apparently the science is settled, [according to Chuck Todd]( of MSNBC.

Smart Rock
July 17, 2019 6:30 pm

It’s not clear to me why a scale model was necessary to show that coral atolls grow upwards to meet rising sea level. A little reading about earth history would have saved them the trouble.

Of course these coral atolls will grow as sea level rises, in their natural state, if sea level rise continues at its leisurely pace of 1.7 mm/year, or even the “accelerated” 3.3 mm/year. This is what coral does.

But, if they are paved over with concrete, that will limit the ability of the corals to grow. What is likely to happen in 500 years or so is that the densely developed islands like the southern part of Tarawa in Kiribati, will end up drowning, and inhabitants will have to move over to the undeveloped islands, whose growth won’t be inhibited by pavement, houses and stuff.

Then nature will take over again and corals will start to grow on top of drowned pavements.

Reply to  Smart Rock
July 18, 2019 6:02 am

The bit they are paving over is dead coral anyway. Granted the man made structures interfere with the deposition of more coral sand on the islands but that is more than compensated for by all the construction materials being imported to make the structures.

July 17, 2019 7:36 pm

I built jetties on a number of atolls in the New Guinea & Solomon Islands area in the mid 70s. I used a technique of casting cement piles in used 44 gallon drums lying around discarded on the copra plantations, as forma. These were grafted into the coral reef face at a depth of 12 to 15Ft, & filled with concrete & reo.

With the steep slope of the reefs these jetties only had to extend a couple of metres from the island, or the coral flat to accommodate the usually 100 Ft to 150 Ft copra boats that worked the area.

I recently checked out some of these by Google earth. Some on the down trade wind side of the islands are now meters inside the island, which has moved down wind engulfing the jetties. Some on the windward side of the island are now surrounded by water, where the island has also moved down wind over the last 50 years.

Most are still in use, & little has changed on their island. What did surprise me is the rapid increase in population shown by the number of homes on the islands. These atolls must be struggling to support the increasing population, particularly as the old copra plantations are being overtaken by native vegetation.

It is this population increase that will kill the atolls, not the sea.

July 17, 2019 9:25 pm

July 17, 2019 at 7:36 pm

Yes, interesting to see what has changed in only a few decades…think what geologic time can do!

You’re absolutely right…population growth is the problem for them…not gradually rising seas.

July 17, 2019 9:45 pm

Hurricanes, Typhoons and Cyclone may not form over the equator but they can start darned close to it …
Meteorological history Cyclone Fani.

Formed: July 25, 2018
Dissipated: August 4, 2018
Highest winds — 1-minute sustained: 270 km/h (165 mph)
Gusts: 285 km/h (180 mph)
Lowest pressure: 941 mbar (hPa); 27.79 inHg

On July 23, an area of Thunderstorms were organizing near the Equator (around 1°N); an unusual occurrence. The National Hurricane Center issued a Cyclone Formation alert for the 3rd time in the Basin that year (the others being Gaja and Phethai). It would take one day for the Indian Meteorological Department and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center to issue an alert.
Later on July 24, the area organized into a Tropical Low. Under very favorable conditions, the low strengthened further into a Tropical Depression the next day.
Unusual features of Cyclone Fani, also known as Typhoon Fani, was that it formed nearer to the equator than any other tropical cyclone did; in fact, although much farther than the previous record holder Typhoon Vamei (2001), it reached Category 5 status with rapid ease.

Reply to  tom0mason
July 18, 2019 5:21 am

They could theoretically even start forming on one side of the Equator and become a hurricane on the other side, though I doubt that has ever happened. What they can’t do is to spin up into a hurricane until they are far enough from the Equator for the Coriolis effect to cut in. Under ideal conditions (=zero wind shear) this will of course be possible closer to the Equator.

After all it isn’t as if thunderstorms can’t occur on the Equator, the ITCZ moves across the Equator twice a year (except in the Eastern Pacific where the sea is too cold south of the Equator – there the movement only happens in the climate models, not in reality).

John Cherry
July 18, 2019 2:35 am

Funny 1:50 scale model, with the width at 1:150 and the length at 1:330.8.

July 18, 2019 5:23 am

This article explains a lot about why Calif. has eroding beaches due to land change uses and upstream changes and damning or, diverting streams. It also explains why it has been an expensive but useless endeavor to add tons of sand to beaches and build sea walls. They are really fighting nature and the sea and the sea is winning.

The California coast is disappearing under the rising sea. Our choices are grim

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  KcTaz
July 19, 2019 4:29 am

Sea level along the West Coast of the US has barely budged in well over 100 years.
In some parts, the land is rising over time.
Erosion, yes.
Sea level rise threatening California?
Pure bunkum.

July 18, 2019 10:46 am

Even better: 6 months ago some Hawaii based academic Chip Fletcher was lamenting the disappearance of East Island on the La Perouse shoal following a hurricane… The story had received a royal global alarmist media treatment…

I had a holy shit moment, thinking ‘Oh my God, it’s gone,’ It’s one more chink in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled.”
It’s unclear if East Island — an 11-acre spit of sand and gravel that hosted a U.S. Coast Guard radar station until 1952 — will ever return or how resilient the displaced animals will be.

Except that as shown on the May 3, 2019 aerial shot, the sand island has been reconstituted at 50% less than one year after hurricane Walaka had reworked it.
Scroll and see for yourself!
Fletcher should be ashamed.
Let’s wait to see how long it will take the global press to make as much noise on the island re-appearance as they made on its vanishing…
H/T to Murray Ford

Reply to  TomRude
July 18, 2019 4:23 pm

It is even worse: in a tweet dated June 15, 2019 Prof. Chip Fletcher continues his agitprop on East Island…
It will take courage to rally around our disappearing ecosystems, courage to protect species threatened with extinction, courage to save ourselves. Chip Fletcher: Memorial For A 2,171-Year-Old Island

The tweet links to a November 2018 article in which Fletcher’s video laments the loss of the sand island…

Yet on his twitter feed, nowhere is the May 3, 2019 aerial image showing East island’s sand bank being reconstituted at 50% shown or discussed. Is Chip Fletcher not interested anymore now that his bull has been debunked by mother nature?

Dr. Charles “Chip” Fletcher is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He is also the Vice-Chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission.

So much for dedication to truth in science…

July 18, 2019 2:30 pm

Its about the people, not the islands… If we actually cared about what happened to pacific islands, we wouldn’t have bombed the crap out of them, all in the name of “testing” our “you know what” (such as the ads covering this site)

July 19, 2019 1:58 pm

A hurricane and a typhoon is the same thing. Hurricane was the term used in the Atlantic and Typhoon in the Pacific, but nowadays hurricane is normaly used in the Pacific as well.

And a hurricane is a type of very powerful cyclone, but cyclone is a much wider concept.

And to make things even more confused, what we usually call a hurricane is actually a tropical hurricane, because a hurricane without any qualification is really any storm with a sustained wind over 64 knots (117 km/h, 33 m/s). For example the only two hurricanes I have personally experienced were both in the Southern ocean. Cyclonic, yes, but anything but tropical.

Theoretically you could even have non-cyclonic hurricanes. I think that katabatic winds in Antarctica (which are anticyclonic) occasionally reach hurricane force.

Johann Wundersamer
July 19, 2019 7:51 pm

Nicholas McGinley,

Science doesn’t know anything about “coriolis force”.

Science talks about “coriolis EFFECT”.

Was du fuer ein Trottel bist, Nicholas McGinley

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
July 20, 2019 11:08 am

Correct. Strictly speaking the Coriolis effect is not a force, it is rather a consequence of the conservation of momentum on a rotating sphere.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  tty
July 20, 2019 8:19 pm


Never heard a better explanation.

Thanks tty – Hans

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  tty
July 20, 2019 9:03 pm

! Tsk.!

Johann Wundersamer
July 20, 2019 8:38 pm


The magic word is “crest” – increase.

Researchers from the University of Auckland’s School of Environment recreated a scale model of tiny Fatato Island on the southeast rim of Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu to test the ability of the real island to withstand predicted climate affects.

– Funafuti Atol will always get its “increase”.

Was zu beweisen war.


Which was to be proved.

Johann Wundersamer
July 20, 2019 9:54 pm
Verified by MonsterInsights