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Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

The Impact of Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on Pacific Ocean Atolls that House Department of Defense Installations

Project Overview

The Problem

Objectives

Background

Approach

Progress

Project Overview: The Problem

Aerial photo of Kwajalein.Many U.S. Pacific islands are atolls fringed with coral reefs and have maximum elevations of 3–5 meters, with mean elevations of 1–2 meters.

At right, aerial photograph of Kwajalein Island, southern tip of Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).

sea-level rise around the globeSea level in the western Pacific Ocean has been increasing at a rate 2–3 times the global average, resulting in almost 0.3 meters of net rise since 1990.

At right, observed trends in sea level between 1993 and 2010 (Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry, 2011). Note the high rates (5-10 millimeters/year) of sea-level rise in the western Pacific and central Indian Oceans where Department of Defense-managed atolls (Kwajalein, Wake, and Diego Garcia) are located. [Larger version]

Sea-Level Rise Scenarios, graphed.The 2012 US National Climate Assessment provided global sea level rise scenarios that ranged from 0.2 to 2.0 meters by 2100. Regional scenarios are needed.

At right, graph depicting global sea-level rise through present, with four possible scenarios for the future. [Larger version]

Photographs following the high surf event on Kwajalein, December 2008, that caused saltwater overwash onto freshwater well fields and facilities.A high surf event in December 2008 overwashed numerous atolls in Micronesia, ruining freshwater supplies and destroying agriculture on approximately 60% of the inhabited islands.

At right, overwash on Kwajalein Island, December 2008.
Photos courtesy of Department of Defense, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (DoD USAKA).

Photographs following the high surf event on Roi Namur Island, December 2008, that caused saltwater overwash onto freshwater well fields and facilities.Sea-level rise will exacerbate the hazards posed by climate change (storms, waves, temperatures, precipitation, etc.) to infrastructure, freshwater supplies, agriculture, and habitats for threatened and endangered species on U.S. and U.S.-affiliated atoll islands.

At right, overwash on Roi-Namur Island, December 2008.
Photo courtesy of Department of Defense, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (DoD USAKA).

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URL: https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/climate-change/atolls/overview.html
DOI: 10.5066/F7QR4V4C
Page Contact Information: Laura Zink Torresan
Page Last Modified: 15 August 2014 (lzt)