Building taller islands could save the Maldives from sea-level rise, a study says

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Artificially raising island elevations or building entirely new higher islands have been proposed as solutions to sea level rise in the Maldives and other low-lying nations.

Researchers from the University of Southampton, the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and TEDI-London, in collaboration with Maldivian scientists, have shown that using simple engineering principles to raise or build new islets is small Nations like the Maldives withstand long-term sea level rise due to climate change.

This approach is consistent with existing practice in the Maldives as well as demographic trends – the capital Malé and neighboring islands are attracting a rapidly growing population as other islands are being abandoned.

“Our results suggest that, in an extreme case, the entire population of the Maldives could live on just two islands built at a significantly higher elevation than natural islands to withstand sea-level rise,” said Prof Robert Nicholls, Director of the Tyndall Center at UEA.

“Of course these islands would look very different from the beautiful ones with beaches that we currently see in tourist brochures. They would be very urban with many high rise buildings as seen in the capital city of Malé today, but many Maldives are now opting for urban environments and they would provide a safe home. Additional elevated islands could accommodate tourism and other economic activities if required.”

Maldivians are already experienced land reclamation engineers. Publication of their results in the journal Environmental research: climatethe researchers suggest that with significant technical investment and government support, the Maldivian population can remain in their country well into the future, rather than being forced to migrate due to sea level rise.

Forced migration to countries other than environmental refugees is often seen as the ultimate response to sea level rise in island nations like the Maldives, which have a population of 500,000 and are growing.

This brings with it many social challenges, including cultural decline, loss of identity, integration and employment challenges, as well as fundamental questions about who will host these migrants.

Land reclamation and the creation of new islands is an established practice in the Maldives, which are typically built two meters above sea level. The researchers suggest building higher islands up to six meters or more above sea level to protect against long-term risks from sea level rise and storms.

They also recommend building new islands that the population could slowly adapt to, including taking into account the rapid rise in sea levels. This approach would work best when combined with climate stabilization.

The researchers say the concept of building new islands higher has implications for other low-lying nations like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, and even mainland coasts.

These approaches would work best for climate stabilization, but are still essential. While the Paris Agreement stabilizes the temperature, sea levels will continue to rise slowly for centuries and will also require adjustments.

The team acknowledges that the findings and recommendations are controversial and only show one path for Maldivians to follow.

Prof Nicholls said: “Small islands are often written off due to sea level rise. The approach we discuss offers a way that these islands and communities can thrive despite these threats, rather than being a pessimistic view that islands will inevitably drown and cause international violence and migration.

“This approach offers another option that complements climate stabilization, but the people of Maldives must decide if and how to use it.”

“Ways to Conserve Atolls Under Rising Sea Levels Through Land Claim and Island Uplift” is published in Environmental research: climate on February 16th.

More information:
Ways to preserve atolls under rising sea levels through land claim and island uplift, Environmental research: climate (2023).

Provided by the University of East Anglia

Citation: Building higher islands could save Maldives from sea level rise, says study (2023, February 16), retrieved February 16, 2023 from -islands-maldives-sea-level.html

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