Conventional inundation models used to forecast increases in sea levels suggest some low-lying Pacific Islands may still be above water in 150 years.
"By taking wave-driven processes into account, we forecast that many of the atolls will be inundated, contaminating freshwater supplies and thus making the islands uninhabitable, much sooner," USGS oceanographer Curt Storlazzi said.
The new USGS research takes storm winds and wave action into account when considering what sort of effects climate change could have in Pacific Islands.
Storlazzi's teams said at least twice as much land would be underwater in parts of the region when compared with data from the old research model.
Rising sea levels attributed in part to melting sea ice and warmer temperature trends are threatening low-lying regions.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., reported that the polar ice cap measured about 1.3 million square miles in late 2012, 18 percent less than the previous low noted in 2007.
Unilateral interests in natural resource development have stalled various treaties aimed at curbing long-term climate change.