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Urban Atolls of the World's Oceans: Succumbing to Rising Seas?
Ford, M. 2012. Shoreline changes on an urban atoll in the central Pacific Ocean: Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands. Journal of Coastal Research 28: 11-22.

The author writes that "atoll islands are widely considered to be among the most vulnerable landforms with respect to the impacts of climate change," in that one of the most commonly perceived impacts for atoll islands as a function of global warming-induced sea level rise is shoreline erosion. However, he reports that "there is a paucity of studies examining shoreline change on atoll islands," and he thus goes on to describe his own most recent study of the subject.

What was done
Focusing on Majuro Atoll, the capital and most populated atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Ford used a combination of aerial photos and satellite imagery to analyze shoreline change of the island over the past three and a half decades, which period was characterized by rapidly increasing population, coastal development, and a rising sea level on the order of three mm/year.

What was learned
The University of Hawaii researcher reports that the rural lagoon shore of Majuro Atoll has been predominantly eroding, but that the ocean-facing shore has been largely accreting, and at a much faster rate. In addition, he finds that "shoreline change within the urban area of Majuro has been largely driven by widespread reclamation for a mix of residential, commercial and industrial activities." Thus, "despite a rising sea level," he finds that "the landmass of Majuro has persisted and, largely because of reclamation, increased in size."

What it means
Ford concludes by noting that as an atoll population increases, "further demands are placed on the limited land available," and he says that in the case of Majuro Atoll, "it is likely that land reclamation will continue to satisfy this demand," noting that "the notion that sea level rise is a singular driver of shoreline change along atolls is spurious," while stating that "adopting such a notion is an impediment to the sustainable management of coastal resources within urban atolls."

Inhabitants of Tuvalu (and other island states) ... take note!

Reviewed 30 May 2012