Risks to future atoll habitability from climate-driven environmental changes

Recent assessments of future risk to atoll habitability have focused on island erosion and submergence, and have overlooked the effects of other climate-related drivers, as well as differences between ocean basins and island types. Here we investigate the cumulative risk arising from multiple drivers (sea-level rise; changes in rainfall, ocean–atmosphere oscillations and tropical cyclone intensity; ocean warming and acidification) to five Habitability Pillars: Land, Freshwater supply, Food supply, Settlements and infrastructure, and Economic activities. Risk is assessed for urban and rural islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5, in 2050 and 2090, and considering a moderate adaptation scenario. Risks will be highest in the Western Pacific which will experience increased island destabilization together with a high threat to freshwater, and decreased land-based and marine food supply from reef-dependent fish and tuna and tuna-like resources. Risk accumulation will occur at a lower rate in the Central Pacific (lower pressure on land, with more limited cascading effects on other Habitability Pillars; increase in pelagic fish stocks) and the Central Indian Ocean (mostly experiencing increased land destabilization and reef degradation). Risk levels will vary significantly between urban islands, depending on geomorphology and local shoreline disturbances. Rural islands will experience less contrasting risk levels, but higher risks than urban islands in the second half of the century. This article is categorized under: Trans-Disciplinary Perspectives > Regional Reviews

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