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Rising Sea Disturbs the Dead, Threatens Islands

Jun 07, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

A World War II gravesite has been flooded by rising seas levels around the Marshall Islands, washing away the bodies of 26 fallen soldiers. This served as a macabre warning of the threat climate change posses to all small island chains, according to a recent United Nations Report.

"These last spring tides in February to April this year have caused not just inundation and flooding of communities but have also undermined regular land, so that even the dead are affected," said foreign minister Tony De Brum, speaking at recent UN climate negotiations, according to the BBC.

"There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves, it's that serious," he added.

This example of the consequences of climate change was presented at UN climate talks in Bonn, which discussed the threat that rising sea levels pose to some small and developing island chains like the Marshall Islands.

The problems these islands are now facing were detailed in "Emerging Issues for Small Island Developing States" - a report from the UN Environment Programme's Foresight Process.

According to this report, sea level rise resulting from glacial melt in Greenland and Antarctica is not being evenly dispersed over all the world's oceans. Instead, parts of the Pacific Ocean  have been seeing a yearly rise that's nearly four times the global average - with waters surrounding the 29 coral atolls that make up the Marshall Islands seeing a 12mm rise in sea levels each year.

The report details how these rising waters are literally shrinking these developing islands through erosion. Worse saltwater floods close to the shorelines can threaten an already tenuous agricultural economy.

Ministers responsible for small island regions are currently aiming to publish commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, adding to efforts to cap emissions launched by the United States and China just last week.

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