60-Second Earth

Sea Level Rise Swamps Islands

The seas are already overlapping islands and coasts from Panama to India. David Biello reports

It's a restful sound, waves, unless they happen to be submerging the island or coastal plain you call home. A combination of climate change and bad environmental practices like coral mining is now swamping some low-lying lands.

Take the islands off the coast of Panama. These Caribbean islands regularly find themselves inundated with seawater for days—and some indigenous inhabitants have begun to move to hillsides on the mainland.

New research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that climate change is already causing even greater sea level rise along the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java—coastlines inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. The same climate change is also responsible for falling sea levels around the Seychelles and a potential weakening of the monsoons.

Satellite images and historical photos in other research suggest that some Pacific islands have proven resilient to sea level rise of roughly 17 centimeters over the last century, largely thanks to corals continuing to provide a steady supply of island-building material.

But rising sea levels thanks to global warming is a problem we better be prepared for.

—David Biello

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