Climate Change

Climate change to increase sea level in Lakshadweep, affect airport, residential areas: Study

Lakshadweep Islands are one of the least polluting marine ecosystems and yet have to bear the harsh brunt of climate change

By Elsie Gabriel
Published: Thursday 15 July 2021
Agatti Island Lakshadweep

The sea-level will rise around Lakshadweep Islands between 0.4 millimetre and 0.9 milimetre per year, according to a study conducted projecting different greenhouse gas scenarios.

The study highlighted that the worst possible inundation scenarios projected for Lakshadweep Islands are almost similar under different emission scenarios projected and all the islands in the archipelago would be vulnerable to sea-level rise.

One of the major threats in the coming years is the rising sea level and its significant impact on small islands. This is for the first time that climate model projections were used to assess the potential areas of inundation over the archipelago of Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea.

Over the years, global warming and climate change proponents have established that small islands nations are especially vulnerable because of their low-lying, ocean-fronted borders, relatively small land masses and exposure to extreme weather and climate variability.

As sea levels continue to rise, they surmise, islanders and cultures are being threatened.

Lakshadweep Islands in India are no different. Although the islands do not come under the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), they are within India’s smallest Union Territory Lakshadweep, which is very similar to SIDS as they are part of an archipelago consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 square kilometres.

It comprises 12 atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks and ten inhabited islands. Ocean-level rise among other climatic changes is threatening the very existence of these geographically isolated and small land masses.

A team of scientists including Aysha Jennath, Athira Krishnan, Saikat Kumar Paul, Prasad K Bhaskaran from the Department of Architecture & Regional Planning and Department of Ocean Engineering & Naval Architecture, IIT Kharagpur, with support from the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India under the Climate Change Programme (CCP), studied the climate projections of sea level rise and associated coastal inundation in atoll islands, a ring-shaped coral reef or island.

The study estimated that smaller islands Chetlat and Amini are expected to lose land majorly. Projection mapping indicated that about 60-70 per cent of existing shoreline would experience land-loss in Amini and about 70-80 per cent in Chetlat.

The present work highlights that larger islands Minicoy and the capital Kavaratti are also vulnerable to sea-level rise, and expected to experience land-loss along 60 per cent of the existing shoreline.

Sea-level rise effects are seen to have the least impact on Androth Island under all emission scenarios.

Prasad K Bhaskaran, who led the study, said:

A more detailed study is required to draw up exactly the solutions and mitigation measures for the same. For a more sustainable development of the infrastructure, ecologically enhanced engineering and green infrastructure needs to be in place to address societal and biodiversity challenges. Designs should be in keeping with 30 years foresight. Breakwaters are recommended.

The research that was recently published in the journal Regional Studies in Marine Science, Elsevier showed that coastal inundation could have a wide socio-economic impact.

Projected inundation due to sea-level rise can impact the islanders as residential areas are quite close to the present coastline, according to the team.
Also, the only airport in the archipelago is located at the southern tip of Agatti Island and has a high likelihood of damage due to inundation from sea-level rise.

The team suggested that keeping in view the impacts from projected sea-level rise for Lakshadweep, it is necessary to have appropriate coastal protection measures and best-practices to formulate planning guidelines.

“Proper coastal protection structures can be implemented to save the land from further inundation to reduce the wave impacts and erosion of the coasts,” suggested team member Athira Krishnan.

This study also opened up a new outlook and dimension on future research to assess the directional nature of wave energy, impact of storminess in the Arabian Sea region, islands that are exposed and sheltered and amenities such as potable water, sanitation and so on.

Aysha Jennath, one of the researchers, said:

Rising sea levels will threaten the freshwater resources there. In Lakshadweep, groundwater is the source of freshwater and it exists as a thin lens over the saline water. As sea level increases, there is going to be saltwater intrusion into groundwater and can make the groundwater unusable. Already due to heavy use the groundwater, Lakshadweep is in a critical state and very saline in many areas. Sea level rise will make it further worse.

This noteworthy study has practical value and can be immensely used for planning that benefit the population in Lakshadweep Islands.

Having first visited the Lakshadweep islands in 2002, have witnessed Island communities of Lakhshadweep over the years have shown immense resilience despite facing the threats of direct inundation as well as greatly magnified risks from storm surges, tidal flooding’s, extreme rain, and other effects of climate change on their livlihood and existence. Continued implementation of solutions by all stakeholders need to be expedited to keep not only rise in sea level but other impacts of climate change on these pristine islands in check.

The sea level will rise about a meter (39 inches) by the century’s end, but this study found that estimate to be conservative, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The results suggested that sea levels will rise about 25 centimeters (10 inches) more per century if carbon emissions are not curbed and the Earth continues to heat up.

There is no 'single solution fits all' way out of this climate reality. Enhancing risk management measures with analysis of each of the 10 inhabited islands independently, aimed at multi-pronged cross-section approach is vital.

It is of paramount urgency to unlock sustainable development pathways to reduce vulnerability and, mitigate environmental and socio-economic risks.

Meanwhile halting deforestation, cutting down on fossil fuels, implementation of rain water harvesting, enforcing renewable energy sources and waste management, pressuring corporates to act on climate related risks, strengthening local community inclusivity in policy making with representation and holding the government accountable is what one can do to combat climate change and contribute towards its mitigation.

Like the small island nations, the Lakshadweep Islands are one of the least polluting marine ecosystems and yet have to bear the harsh brunt of climate change.

Is Lakshadweep Islands equipped to handle the impacts of the phenomenon?

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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