Tuvalu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The Midway between Hawaii and Australia, and it comprises three reef islands and six true atolls.
The effects of climate change on Tuvalu became evident beginning in 1950, but, in some cases, these impacts appeared even earlier in the nation’s history. For example, the maximum temperature in Funafuti has increased at a rate of 0.21°C per decade since 1950, which is consistent with patterns for global warming and climate change. Additionally, between 1950 and 2009, rates of relative sea-level rise near Funafuti were approximately three times higher than the global average while ocean acidification levels have been slowly increasing in Tuvalu’s waters since the 18th century.
Thus, it is apparent that climate change already affects Tuvalu in terms of increases in temperatures, sea levels, and ocean acidification levels. The most recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has further suggested the extreme effects climate change will have on Tuvalu into the future.
SEA LEVEL RISE
First, the IPCC report suggests that sea levels will rise in the range of 0.5 meters to one meter by the year 2100. Because Tuvalu’s land territories are all less than five meters above sea level and the majority of Tuvalu’s population lives less than one meter above sea level, if the IPCC’s findings are accurate, the majority of Tuvalu’s populated land will be submerged by 2100.
Due to the increased rates of sea level rise, not only will the low-lying areas of Funafuti and other Tuvaluan islands be exposed to more frequent and extensive saltwater flooding, but Tuvalu’s agricultural activities, as well as the already limited water supplies in the country, will also be severely affected. To describe a specific example, Tuvalu once relied heavily on growing pulaka, a type of taro, to maintain agricultural self-sufficiency. Now, due to sea level rise, the swampy areas of islands where pulaka is farmed have increased in salinity and citizens are unable to successfully raise this crop. As a result, the people of Tuvalu can no longer depend on pulaka to replenish their food supplies and are forced to instead import large amounts of rice to sustain their daily diet.
SEVERE WEATHER EVENTS AND CORAL REEFS
The IPCC has also predicted that, due to the effects of climate change, severe weather events will soon begin to threaten Tuvalu with increased frequency. For example, cyclones and droughts will become more commonplace and are some of the first serious effects of climate change Tuvalu will witness in the near term. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are also presently destroying and will continue to destroy life forms including coral that have, in the past, naturally protected Tuvalu from severe weather events like cyclones.
To give an example, increases in water temperature directly result in extreme coral bleaching phenomena, during which marine-life such as algae that grow within coral die out as temperatures reach excessively high levels. As a result, coral turns white—hence the term “coral bleaching”—and if high temperatures persist, the coral itself dies. In addition, ocean acidification is currently threatening coral and shellfish with calcium carbonate components such as clams, mussels, and snails. Ocean acidification is another consequence of climate change, in which high levels of carbon dioxide that now exist in the atmosphere because of greenhouse gas emissions result in higher levels of CO2 being dissolved in the ocean. Higher CO2 levels in the ocean contribute to the increasing acidity of ocean waters and threaten to dissolve the calcium carbonate components of certain marine creatures because CO2-rich habitats make calcium carbonate erode faster than it can grow. Because, in the near future, severe weather events will occur with greater frequency at exactly the same time that naturally protective life forms like coral experience accelerated rates of decay, the destructive force of severe weather events will increase exponentially, threatening both the people and land of Tuvalu.