A ring of coral
Floating on seas of hubris –
Lost beneath the waves
An atoll is a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands formed of coral. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, with the highest rates in the tropics, where thousands of low-lying atolls are located. Most studies on the resilience of these atolls to sea-level rise have projected that they will experience minimal impacts from flooding until at least the end of the 21st century.
However, these previous studies have not taken into account the additional hazard of wave-driven overwash (storm waters and waves that wash up and over the low-lying island), specifically the impact that this has on freshwater availability. This new research shows that based on current greenhouse gas emission rates, annual wave-driven overwash of most atoll islands will occur by the middle of the 21st century. These annual flooding events will result in the atolls becoming uninhabitable because of the inability of their freshwater aquifers (underground stores of freshwater) to recover, meaning that freshwater availability will be scarce. This study highlights the immediacy of the risk that climate change poses to these atolls and their populations.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here.