A new study has revealed a surprising phenomenon: Scientists have seen that a sprawling chain of volcanic islands and atolls located in the central Pacific Ocean grow in size when examining the evolution of the island.
This is especially surprising since scientists were expecting to see otherwise. Low-lying atolls have long been considered especially vulnerable to climate change since rising sea levels could easily submerge them. However, it is now seen that some islands are doing the opposite and gaining mass since 1943.
The inhabited Jeh island, which is made up of a remote chain of coral atolls and volcanic islands, is in the low-lying Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands. Atoll islands are heaps of reef-derived sediments deposited in the last 5000 years or less, and according to the study, the low-lying islands have been called the "most endangered nation on Earth due to the potential effects of sea-level rise."
New Zealand and Canadian researchers studied the Jeh island using aerial photographs, satellite imagery, and radiocarbon dating of sediment deposits. The results were shocking: the island, which inhabits 40 homes, has grown 13%.
The radiocarbon-dated sediment deposited on the island suggested that the island's growth is relatively new, too. The study's co-author Murray Ford says, "You can still see an island grow at a time when most people and most models would suggest they should be eroding," per CNN.
Climate change is still an issue
"This is the first time we can see the islands form, and we can say the stuff making that island is modern ... so it must be coming from the reef around the island," Ford continued. "It's entirely the skeletons of the reef and the organisms that live on it."
However, this isn't to say that climate change isn't an issue. It is not clear if the atolls can continue to produce sediment and stay above sea level.
Ford says, "In this work and in previous studies, we have found islands are resilient in the face of rising seas and that sediment supply to some atolls is out-pacing sea level rise. What we don’t know is how that will play out in coming decades but studies of low-lying reef island formation do need to take these findings into account."