Tsunami damage on the island province of Choiseul, Solomon IslandsThe Solomon Island Province of Choiseul had to relocate following the 2007 tsunami damage and rising sea levels [credit: The Global Call For Climate Change Action]

Five small islands have disappeared beneath the waves in the Solomon Islands archipelago as rising sea levels, compounded by erosion due to high wave energy, swallow up more of the South Pacific nations.

Using aerial and satellite imagery of 33 islands from 1947 to 2014, along with local knowledge, researchers found sea levels had risen by as much as 10mm a year over the past two decades—more than twice the global average—with at least 11 northern islands either totally disappearing or experiencing severe erosion, Reuters reported.

The five islands that vanished most recently were all vegetated reef islands with an area of up to five hectares (12 acres) that were occasionally used by fishermen but not populated. ‘They were not just little sand islands,’ the study’s lead author, Simon Albert, told AFP.

On six other islands, large areas had been lost and entire villages destroyed. Families on Nuatambu and Nararo islands were forced to relocate to other islands.

However, in an interesting codicil to the news, the Guardian reported that Albert had complained that most news outlets had exaggerated the causal effect of climate change. ‘I would prefer slightly more moderate titles that focus on sea-level rise being the driver rather than simply “climate change”,’ he said.

Conflating climate change and rising sea levels was misleading and misinterpreted the science, he said, pointing out that the sea-level rise was partly driven by trade winds. However, noting the disturbing trend of wave energy increasing along with local sea-level rise, he added: ‘The trade winds are partly a natural cycle but also the recent intensification is related to atmospheric warming.’

Albert concluded: ‘These observations from the Solomons are a warning of things to come, irrespective of if climate change alone caused it or a range of factors.’