Tuvalu News


By Michael Field

KOROR, Palau (October 4, 1999 – Agence France-Presse)---Pacific countries claiming to be losing islands and land to the rising ocean may be doing it to themselves rather than as a consequence of any man-made global warming effect, South Pacific Forum officials were told here Monday.

The director of Australia’s National Tidal Facility of Flinders University, Wolfgang Scherer, told a briefing that it was possible that the Pacific might be rising by up to two millimeters a year, but the effect was wildly variable across the region.

In some places, such as Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, rising land levels are occurring due to volcanoes, while part of Australia is rising, causing a lowering of sea level.

The 30th South Pacific Forum summit is under way here Monday with climate change a major agenda issue. Leaders have tended to portray the issue in terms of the industrial world creating a global environment which is leading to rising sea levels and the flooding of low-lying atoll states.

Earlier this year, Kiribati claimed two of its islets in Tarawa had "disappeared" due to rising sea levels while Tuvalu, to the south, claims its coastline is sinking due to what it says is the rising sea level caused by global warming.

Scherer, who is part of a Pacific-wide sea level monitoring program, said it was virtually impossible to identify any manmade effects on sea level change.

"You are playing a millimeter game with millimeter effects," he said, and added he would not want to speculate at this point on whether anything long term was happening to the sea level.

The data, he said, are too little and too recent.

However, he said it was clear that relative sea level rises in places like Kiribati may have nothing to do with the global situation but rather with the way in which the local freshwater aquifers under each atoll are used.

If they are over used by the local population, atolls themselves can rise and fall, letting in more seawater to the fresh ground water and flooding garden pits, giving the effect of sea level rises.

"The land itself is not stable. It is moving and often it is moving because of local issues."

He said the early data suggested that the Pacific sea level might be rising by an average of two millimeters a year, but this is not uniform across the region and findings often are based on data less than 10 years old.

In Kiribati, the data show the sea level fell by 21 millimeters while, just to the north, the Marshalls show it rose 2.9 millimeters.

"We are not finding places where the sea level rise is very strong," Scherer said.

Scientists have little idea of what is happening to the land itself, whether it is rising or falling, and have no solid information on what the seabed floor is doing.

"The question is, what is happening to the volume of the oceans? That is the real critical question.... and we are a long way from being able to (solve) that problem."

While scientists cannot demonstrate any sea-level rise or any relationship to manmade activities, Scherer said there was the possibility of global warming still leading to an acceleration in the rise. This could occur through a speeding up of El Niño events, which tended to increase the sea level in the Pacific.

"We cannot preclude the very definite possibility that the ocean may respond with an acceleration of sea level rise, even in the shorter term."

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