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Island Creation in the Maldives Could Counteract Land Loss Due to Sea Level Rise

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Sep 28, 2013 06:19 PM EDT
Dhakandhoo, Maldives
The creation of new islands could make up for the loss of land in the Maldives due to sea level rise, a study published in the journal Geology suggests.
(Photo : University of Exeter)

The creation of new islands could make up for the loss of land in the Maldives due to sea level rise, a study published in the journal Geology suggests.

Regional island building consists of lagoons filling with sand taken from the surrounding coral reefs. As this happens, plant and animal life take root.

By studying the history and timing of this process throughout the area, researchers concluded that the continued accumulation of sand within the reefs found inside Maldivian atolls offer an opportunity for future island development.

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Smaller reefs where the lagoons are nearly filled in, the study showed, are most likely to give way to islands -- a process that could happen within 100 years if provided with enough sand.

The findings further suggested that these smaller islands could then grow into structures that could then be inhabited even as sea level rise reduces the land available on other islands.

Many existing islands were established and expanded through the last few thousand years under slightly higher-than-present sea levels, the researchers found.

"Many of the heavily populated islands in the Maldives have limited capacity to respond naturally to sea-level rise and this will necessitate additional spending on shoreline maintenance," Co-author Chris Perry from the University of Exeter said. "Our research suggests, however, that the potential does exist for new island formation on those reefs inside the atolls that have near fully infilled lagoons. These may ultimately provide additional land options across the region, and some possibilities for mitigation options under higher sea level conditions."

Researchers from the University of Auckland, James Cook University, the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan, Curtin University and the University of Glasgow all contributed to the report.

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