Science & Technology

Maldives can adapt to sea-level rise. Here’s how

New study supports raising island height, building new habitations to save Maldives, low-lying areas

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 16 February 2023
Photo: iStock

Low-lying island countries like the Maldives have been experimenting with raising the height of such islands to cope with sea-level rise and a new study showed that these efforts are efficient. 

Using simple engineering techniques to elevate islands threatened by submergence and creating new islands entirely where people can be moved to can help small island nations like the Maldives, according to a report by researchers from the University of Southampton, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and TEDI-London, along with Maldivian scientists. 

The current demographic trends in the Maldives also support these measures, the authors added: The capital Malé and neighbouring islands are attracting a rapidly expanding population as other islands are abandoned.

Robert Nicholls, director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, was quoted in a blog by the UEA:

Our findings indicate that in the extreme the entire population of the Maldives could live on just two islands that are built at a significantly higher elevation than natural islands to withstand sea-level rise.

Melting glaciers and expanding seawaters due to global warming causes the global sea-level to rise. Since 1993 till November 2022, global sea-level has gone up by 103 millimetres, according to the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center. 

This is a major threat, especially for small island nations and coastal areas that may be entirely wiped off the map in some decades. 

With significant engineering investment and government support, however, the Maldivian population can remain in their country far into the future rather than be forced to migrate because of sea-level rise, according to the report published in the journal Environmental Research: Climate.

Unlike the pristine landscapes, these new islands will be mostly urban, dotted with high-rise buildings, the authors of the report noted. “Additional raised islands could provide space for tourism and other economic activities as required.”

But even with this apparent loss of natural beauty, these measures will prevent loss of culture, identity, integration and livelihoods that can be brought on by relocation to other countries, they added. 

Climate stabilisation will be essential for the approach of creating new islands to be effective, the scientists asserted. But it will still help the residents of islands where submergence due to sea-level rise is imminent, they added. “While the Paris Agreement stabilises temperature, sea levels will continue to rise slowly for centuries requiring adaptation as well.”

The team acknowledged that the results and recommendations are controversial, and they show only one route Maldivians can follow, according to the university blog. 

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