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Tuvalu is growing, not shrinking, new research shows

Researchers suggest waves, specifically storm waves, have contributed significant sediment deposition.

By Brooks Hays
At least 73 of Tuvalu's 101 islands have grown in size over the last 40 years. Photo by Auckland University
At least 73 of Tuvalu's 101 islands have grown in size over the last 40 years. Photo by Auckland University

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- According to new research, the nation of Tuvalu, a group of islands in the Pacific, has grown significantly over the last four decades.

The findings -- published Friday in the journal Nature Communications -- challenge the notion that small islands will be lost to rising seas.

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Scientists at the University of Aukland analyzed hundreds of high-definition aerial photographs taken of Tuvalu's 101 islands over the last 40 years. Since 1970, the nation's total size has increased by nearly 3 percent. The islands have added some 73.5 hectares, or 181.6 acres, of new land.

Despite rising sea levels, the study showed at least 73 of Tuvalu's 101 islands are larger than they were 40 years ago.

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"The study findings may seem counter-intuitive given that sea level has been rising in the region over the past half-century," study co-author Paul Kench told Stuff. "But the dominant mode of change over that time on Tuvalu has been expansion, not erosion."

Researchers suggest waves, specifically storm waves, have contributed significant sediment deposition, essentially propping up and expanding the islands.

The latest work is part of an ongoing effort to understand the dynamics of island morphology. The most recent findings support the conclusions of previous modeling efforts that showed coral reef islands will naturally reposition themselves on their reef platforms, forming natural sand and gravel barriers against rising sea.

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"We tend to think of Pacific atolls as static landforms that will simply be inundated as sea levels rise but there is growing evidence these islands are geologically dynamic and are constantly changing," Kench said.

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