back to article Pacific islands growing not shrinking, says old study

Huge compensation claims filed by Pacific states including Tuvalu have been hit by a three-year old study, dramatically "rediscovered" by New Scientist magazine today. The study concluded that many Micronesian islands are growing, not shrinking. “It has been thought that as the sea level goes up, islands will sit there and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Living islands, say it isn't so!

    Clearly, the IPCC is also responsible for ash cloud modelling. How else could that get inflated that much out of proportion?

    Personally, I think we should take good care of the earth like a present to our children. Penance won't help much. Tossing (tax) money around, neither. It seems the more you see them hopping around, the less competent they seem. That's everyone, UN, EU, governments, IPCC, campaigners yay and nay. Journos, wannabe sarcasmos, commentards, twitter twits, and everyone else too included for good measure.

    So busy defending and advancing their own little agenda that we all easily forget what really counts.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Looks like Clarkson might be right after all

  3. Daniel Evans

    Word Order?

    "small island developing states"? Isn't island developing what they do off the UAE for new hotels? If so, then said state shouldn't have any issue with sea level change - just develop their new island!

    I'll get my coat.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    climate change folk

    Climate change folk don't like to think humans are clever enough to invent ways out of problems, they like government backed research and living in caves.

    I don't doubt that there is some level of man made climate change going on (but hell climate changes, live with it), but I also don't doubt that if mankind is left to its own devices it can figure out a way to get through most problems and infact our greatest discoveries are made when we are most at peril or very motivated by potential riches.

    We're at our least inventive in the UK when the government is at the helm, science for commitee and grant instead of self recognition and wealth.

  5. Code Monkey

    Thor Heyerdahl

    Thor Heyerdahl's idea that the Pacific islands were populated from South America has been pretty thoroughly discredited (though take nothing away from the magnifience of his journey).

    That the islanders travelled (largely) from West to East is an even more impressive feat of navigation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have I missed an episode?

      "Thor Heyerdahl's idea that the Pacific islands were populated from South America has been pretty thoroughly discredited"

      Has it? I thought the linguistic and cultural evidence was pretty damn good. Do you have a link for that?

      1. Chris Collins


        This is covered pretty well by Jared Diamond in his Guns, Germs and Steel book. The tv show, not so much Linguistically they originate in South East Asia and moved eastwards in response to population pressure from the west, pushing the Guineans and Australians out of the way. There are no links to South America, lots to Asia.

        1. Code Monkey


          One or both of Alice Roberts's "The Incredible Human Journey" and Spencer Wells' "The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey" support the spread from Asia.

          They're excellent books and well worth a few evenings of anyone's time.

      2. Michael MacAskill

        You missed an era rather than an episode...

        There is NO linguistic and cultural evidence supporting settlement of Polynesia from South America. And there is certainly no genetic evidence.

        Heyerdahl's ideas were crackpot views from the 70s that don't survive examination in the light of the evidence. He may have paddled about in the seas in his raft, but we now know conclusively (from linguistic, cultural, genetic, domesticated animal, and pottery evidence) that the settlement of Polynesia originated from Asia (and modern day Taiwan in particular).

        There is evidence of CONTACT between Polynesia and South America: the sweet potato (known as the kumara in new Zealand) was a staple food crop in Polynesia but originated in South America. But given the proven sea-faring abilities of the Polynesians at the time, the most likely explanation is that they travelled to South America and brought the kumara back themselves. Remember, these are the same guys who also settled as far West as Madagascar, so reaching South America in the East is not that unlikely.


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down

          @ Michael MacAskill

          Where is your proof that they settled as far west as Madagascar?

          Captain Cooks logs show he used an islander guide from Tahiti (where he had been sent to record an eclipse) on his follow on mission to search for the rumoured great southern land. This Islander guide had extensive knowledge of all the pacific islands navigating them to many islands unknown to them and eventually to New Zealand (evidence of constant contact and trade between all the islands of the Pacific). It also shows that all of the pacific islander inhabitants up to and including those of New Zealand had no knowledge of a whole continent that lay to their west.

          For a culture that had astounding geographical knowledge, that kept in constant contact, traded and shared information as they spread out, they remarkably had no knowledge of anything west of New Zealand.

          1. Michael MacAskill

            Perhaps you could bother finding your own evidence but....

            Well, actually Taiwan is west of New Zealand, and that is the ORIGIN point of the Austronesian language group. New Zealand was the southern limit of Polynesian/Austronesian expansion, but certainly not the western limit.

            Nice map here showing the distribution of Austronesian languages, and yes, it includes Madagascar:


            Not that Wikipedia is a definitive source, but you'll find that the main claims there are in broad agreement with the scientific/historical consensus.

      3. Fremma

        Oh sweet potatoes

        > "Thor Heyerdahl's idea that the Pacific islands were populated from South America has been pretty thoroughly discredited"

        > Has it? I thought the linguistic and cultural evidence was pretty damn good. Do you have a link for it?

        The cultural evidence seems to be that the staple diet in the Islands (other than fish, obviously) is the sweet potato which undoubtably originated in South America. The linguistic evidence is the fact that in Polynesia it is called "kumara" and in Peru it is known as "kumar". Everything else points to South East Asia. This highlights two great Polynesian strengths:

        1/ They were wonderful seafarers, able to navigate across the Pacific to the West coast of South America and, more importantly, back (with kumara)

        2/ They had enough sense to never return to Peru.

  6. Owen Carter

    Why only till 2003?

    Interesting graph.. why does it stop at 2003? Discuss.....

    1. Luther Blissett


      The paper it came from was published in 2004 (it says so), so one can reasonably conclude the research concluded the year before. Or is the obvious inference displeasing to Gaia?

  7. Jolyon Ralph

    Confusion of height and width.

    I know these are complex subjects and the author may not grasp it, but I'll try and explain.

    height is up and down.

    width is left and right.

    When sealevel rises the important factor is height. Anything that isn't high enough goes underwater. A side effect of this is the island width appears to shrink horizontally, because more of the island is going under water.

    RIght. Simple so far.

    So... The island grows because of sediment and coral growth. Great! Wonderful. That extends the island width, but not the height. Because sediments and corals both accumulate underwater. Eventually stretching the island out a little bit horizontally, but not in one bit adding to the height. In fact, where does that sediment come from? From the high bits of the islands eroding, so they're getting just that little bit shorter.

    Consequently, it makes absolutely fuck all difference how WIDE the island is to prevent sea-level from inundating it.

    1. Ian Stephenson Silver badge

      I fail your fail

      Did you perchance miss the point that the mean height above sea level has not changed for the islands in question even though sea levels have risen.

      0/10 must try harder.

    2. mr.K

      To mr.Ralph

      Think you should find out which type of islands these are, I do. Yes, do some research, you must.

      Yoda aside. Ask yourself what made these islands in the first place. Given the fact that these are not made from geological formations, but they still managed to grow just above sea level, what will prevent it from continuing to do so?


      I have absolutely no problems with people taking different sides in a scientific debate, but when you say something like:

      "I know these are complex subjects and the author may not grasp it, but I'll try and explain."


      "Consequently, it makes absolutely fuck all difference how WIDE the island is to prevent sea-level from inundating it."

      and in process contest an associate professor and the magazine New Scientist which have chosen to publish an article about the report, then you better have something major to back it up with. At least I expect you to have a rock solid scientific background, which of course you might have, and have read the report and articles referring to them at least three or four times and checked their references etc. It is simply not enough when all you have to come with are a thesis why something somebody have gone out and actually measured can't possible be true. It really doesn't help when your thesis is based on these islands being of a completely different type than they actually are. When you on top of that are so arrogant about it makes you look like an equus asinus. Did you even read the article in New Scientist?

      I am so, like totally, fed up, of people that can't bring an open and inquiring mind, and a civil tone to a scientific debate. It does however help to stoop to their level for a period of time equal to the time it takes to write a response. Yes, take my hat and coat and leave, I will.

    3. blackworx

      @ Jolyon Ralph

      Stunning arrogance for someone so utterly wrong.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah but no but...

      I did wonder as I read the article what the numbers are for people living on sediment or coral.

      As you say, the sediment is produced by the increased rate of erosion by the sea on the new shoreline. This is the process that ultimately reduces mountains to atolls and then submerged reefs. The increased sea-level actually produces an increase in entropy which is why erosion speeds up.

      The idea that ones home might be reduced to a mud-flat before being completely drowned seems a little better than that it'll go under in one smooth event, but only a very little.

      Solar cycles and weather are certainly connected (in some way not yet understood), but not in the fine detail that Mörner claims. 1815/16 was Tambora, not sunspots. It is not unusual for the assumed effect of the sunspot cycle to be contradicted by temperature measurements on the ground, as indeed it is at the moment.

      1. blackworx

        @Robert Long

        "the sediment is produced by the increased rate of erosion by the sea on the new shoreline"

        Not true. Increased sea level does not imply increased rate of erosion, nor is coastal erosion the only source of coastal sediment, nor is coastal erosion/deposition the only process that shapes a coastline. Even centuries-established coasts can change dramatically overnight.

        "This is the process that ultimately reduces mountains to atolls and then submerged reefs."

        Sorry, but that's so wide of the mark it doesn't even count as a gross oversimplification.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          "Increased sea level does not imply increased rate of erosion, "

          It generally does. If the new shoreline represents a chance from the old in terms of hardness then the rate will go down, but even then the amount of energy available for erosion will usually go up.

          There are other factors than sea level, obviously, and in the short term some of them can totally swamp the effect, but all else being equal erosion on new coat is faster than on old coast.

          ""This is the process that ultimately reduces mountains to atolls and then submerged reefs."

          Sorry, but that's so wide of the mark it doesn't even count as a gross oversimplification."

          Over the lifetime of an island, most of the erosion that reduces it to a submerged stub is likely to occur at sea level as a result of wave action reducing the bulk of the island to sediment. This is essentially an entropic effect operating on each successive new coastline as it is produced by the removal of the previous one.

      2. elderlybloke
        Thumb Up

        To mr.Ralph

        Hello Mr K,

        It only confuses people when you bring facts into the discussion/argument.

        Memo - I must go and learn about the islands to the North of me.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Sand Accumulation

      Not strictly true.

      As the corals die and erode, they get broken up into bioclastic sand. This sand can be moved from deeper water onto the shores by wave action.

      As long as the corals survive, they can keep pace with any reasonable rise in sea level (eustatic or relative). If sea levels fall then there is the danger of exposing the corals and they die back to a fringe.

  8. Owen Carter

    Land reclamation

    Hi Andrew,

    You forgot to mention land reclamation in this article.. which is weird since other articles discussing this in (supposedly less reputable) rags do.

    As the 3rd AnonCow. above mentions; humans will be taking steps for themselves too, and dredging up a load of old coral to bolster your island is an old tactic. It's often been used to build runways etc.. (eg. the sort of thing that can make a small island grow 60% in a few years).

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Land reclamation

      But that's not what you want to do if you want the world to think your island is sinking.

      1. Owen Carter

        Re: Land reclamation

        So.. leave your home and shout 'we were right', or protect, survive, and get called liars.

        Grand choice there.

        And who says the islanders themselves are the ones reclaiming the land anyway? Have a look at the history for 'wake island'; it's not alone.

  9. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Fraud claims...

    "Is a fraud claim against these governments entirely out of the question?"

    Yes it is. Because it is generally perceived as politically fucking incorrect just to think that rising sea levels, etc. do not materialise and our widespread Ministries of Truth kick in and proactively suppress information which is not in the flavour of the current mainstream fallacy.

    Penguin icon 'cause they do not drown either.

    1. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge


      I think your tinfoil hat fell off, get it back on your head before the CIA start controlling your thoughts with their orbital mind control lasers that they reverse engineered with the help of the Illuminati from captured alien tech found at the Roswell crash site...


    2. Identity


      because fraud requires intent to defraud. Apparently Andrew believes these people are laughing up their sleeves and snickering, instead of believing that their homes are in danger. I think they are convinced of the danger, whether correctly or not.

  10. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    Coral may be able to cope with slow sea level rises

    However, the ability of coral to survive is severly limited in deeper water. If sea level rise speeds up, as it quite likely will if/when the polar ice caps melt, and as the planet warms, due to thermal expansion, then the coral that these islands are based on will not eb able to grow fast enough. Encouraging scientific debate on global warming and its effects is all good and well, but if you claim a scientific viewpoint, you can't just throw away inconvenient facts that fail to suit your agenda. If that's the case, then you may as well give up and become a homeopath.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Andrew, have you lost it? Not only is the article a bit short on describing the real truth but you also

    promote that we should not work to eliminate pollution leading to climate change?

    Should we also not try to prevent oil spills since they will wash away eventually?

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: What?

      "we should not work to eliminate pollution leading to climate change?"

      I presume what you mean is that you think CO2 is a pollutant, and that reducing CO2 is the only option here.

      We should do whatever harms the fewest people and benefits the most, naturally.

      1. Reading Your E-mail

        Re: What?

        I do love the old CO2 is a pollutant, I'm sure plants would say O2 is a pollutant.

        IT'S THEM OR US PPL!!!!

        1. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

          If you claim that rising CO2 is good for plants

          Just bear in mind that plant life on this planet is adapted to live with a specific level of CO2, which generally changes only slowly over geological timescales. There is no reason to believe that plant metabolism will be able to cope well with sudden changes in levels of atmospheric CO2. For instance, it has been shown that plants form fewer stomata on their leaves at higher CO2 concentrations.

          Just bear in mind that animal life is similarly adapted to roughly 20% oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Double that, and the long-term effects on your body would be unpleasant, not to mention the fact that your clothes would probably catch fire too:

          All in all, I'm in favour of not screwing about with the planetary atmosphere any more than is absolutely necessary. I couldn't tell you for certain whether it would be a good or bad thing, but the overwhelming evidence points towards bad.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: What?

        "We should do whatever harms the fewest people and benefits the most, naturally."

        Cool. Lets kill 49.99% of the worlds population (poor people, foreigners, commies, etc..) and auction their pitiful possessions with the proceeds being distributed amongst the victors. This meets your criteria, yesno?

        Alternatively.. how about..

        Stopping the upcoming crunch; when our destabilised climate can no longer support our rapid population growth and can no longer be worked around due to growing resource scarcity

        This is where you can focus your energy if you -really- want to do some good.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: What?

          First you need to demonstrate the climate had become 'destabilised' -- and that's something you can't do.

  12. AnglePoise

    Sea level rises relative to land

    Sea levels have been rising for the last 10 thousand years around the coast of southern England. Near me in London, for example, water has risen relative to land by about 4.1 metres since Roman times. However, all around the south and east coast of England one can find areas where land has grown at the expense of sea since Roman times. In other words, material has been positively deposited there. Precisely how erosion and sedimentation balance out in any particular area depends on a lot of factors, notably including sea currents and silt being washed down from inland, both of which can be heavily influenced by human activity. However, as a general rule, marshy coastal estuaries tend to remain in balance at about high tide level. I have no idea how far Pacific islands are affected by the other big variable -- vertical movement in the earth's crust -- but it seems entirely plausible that some of them could be net traps for sediment and therefore net growers not shrinkers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The south of England is sinking and the north rising due to the disappearance of the ice age glaciers that were depressing the north. As the north 'bounces' back, the south sinks.

  13. ArmanX

    Who said anything about pollution?

    I'm not against stemming pollution, helping those less fortunate, and so on - but that's not what this article is about. It's about itty bitty islands that claim to be shrinking, while in reality, they are getting bigger. All these islands are doing is getting money for nothing - like most enviro-wackos out there. Like I said, I have no problem with real science and cutting pollution, but when it's a pseudo-science scam just to get more funding (especially if it increases "climate panic"), I want none of it.

    Remember the boy that cried wolf? Well, let the wolf eat 'em.

  14. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Free money?

    Hey, I'd tell a few stinkers and hope to get away with it too, if there's that much dosh being handed out by gullible people.

  15. Simpson

    A new tipping point


    How does the added weight from the growth of the island affect the buoyancy of the island? If all of the growth were on one side of the island, is the risk of capsizing greatly increased?

    Sincerely, Hank Johnson

  16. Anonymous Coward


    As some posters above are talking about mountains being eroded below sea level, I think the question of time scale should be raised. Yes, eventually, every single mountain/feature will be dust. By that time, we'll be lucky if there's a human race about to care but assuming there is, they'll be living on the new land that has been formed from the accumulated mountain dust.

    I'm not saying we shouldn't pay careful attention and I'm not saying there won't be any unexpected problems. I'm merely saying that on the time scales we're now discussing, we should have ample time (generations at least) to identify a problem and resolve it.

    And for me to pay enough attention that I do more than rant on el Reg, I need to see some science that isn't a) based on a (bad/obfuscated/incomplete) model and b) comes from an actual respected scientist - That is one whose primary concern is science not CC grants.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Read a bit too much Sindbad, have we?

      Now excuse me, my mountain has capsized due to snowfall, gotta go put it upright again.

  17. Identity

    Ah, complexity!

    As a veteran cynic, I have no objection to the idea people will try to aggrandize themselves by any means. And yet...

    As any one who's followed the spam wars can attest, let there be a disaster, and someone will try to profit from it — but that doesn't mean the disaster doesn't exist!

    These systems are so complex that, frankly, we don't really know what's going on. We're more like the seven blind men and the elephant. For instance, no one has mentioned that with increased CO2 comes increased ocean acidification, which is deleterious to coral (note coral is dying in places the world over). Even if coral build-up is mitigating tidal effects, there's no guarantee this will continue into the future, and it would be foolish to depend on it.

    Plainly there's lots of symptomatic evidence that something is happening that will change the way and where we live. And it doesn't look like an improvement.

    Picking at the bits is like saying, 'Look how it snowed in Washington! Where's your global warming? Climate change is bunk!' (as in, weather does not equal climate) Throw in a bit of selfishness and you've got yourself a real recipe!

    But, you know, argue all you want. It doesn't matter to nature or physics. We'll just have to deal with the consequences...

  18. Stevie Silver badge


    So what we need is a few Crown of Thorns starfish...

    1. Philc1


      sorry the ocean is alkaline and can only become less alkaline not acidic

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh up!

    The line marked mean is higher than all the data points in the graph, Very fishy!

  20. The Star Thrower

    Great article but what's "Seal Level Changes" ?

    Fantastic article, congrats to Andrew, whom i always enjoy reading.

    One thing, though - what's the "Seal Level Changes"? he mentions on page one? Is that something we need to be worried about now as well as sea level changes? Perhaps it's linked to falling polar bear populations.

    I think we should be told . . .


    Re. the gulf oil spill thing a couple of people have mentioned above. Let's get a sense of perspective here. It's not good, that's for damm sure. But the worst environmental disaster in America's history? C'mon now. Did somebody say "dust bowl"?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    $100bn per year?

    I'd rather see this spent on developing fusion then they can just all just chill. As it were.

  22. scatter

    Not half as fishy as...

    ...the other graph in Morner's testimony linked to in the article:


    Keep clutching at those straws Andrew!


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