Five Pacific islands have been drowned by climate change, and more are sinking fast

Time to move.
Time to move.
Image: Reuters/Daniel Munoz
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Half the houses in Nuatambu village have disappeared beneath the sea since 2011, forcing people to relocate and breaking up communities that date back to 1935.

This is the new normal in Nuatambu. It lies on Choiseul island, one of 33 reef islands in the Solomons whose coastline changes every year because of rising sea levels. According to a new study that analyzed aerial satellite images from 1947 to 2014, five islands in the Solomons have vanished completely in that period, and another six have lost between 20% and 60% of their land area.

Human-caused emissions are heating the globe, which is melting the glaciers and leading to global sea levels rising at about 3 millimeters (a tenth of an inch) per year. If the current rate of carbon emissions is not curbed, the rate of sea-level rise will accelerate to 7 millimeters annually. In the Solomon Islands—home to more than 500,000 people—a combination of climate change and trade winds is already pushing local sea-levels up by that amount every year.

Apart from humans, creeping sea levels also threaten animals and coral. But even if we suddenly stopped the increase in global temperatures, sea levels would continue to rise for many centuries, as past warming ensures that glaciers will continue to melt. For low-lying nations like the Solomons, it’s now a matter of trying to limit the damage.