Small islands will face more drought as a consequence of climate change

New research by Nature Climate Change warns that small islands will face increased freshwater scarcity by 2050.

Yet again small islands are at the forefront when it comes to the impacts of climate change. A recent study claims that these will face more freshwater scarcity than scientists previously thought. Current global climate models (GCMs, mathematical representations of climate used to predict future variables such as surface pressure, wind, temperature, humidity and rainfall) predict that half of small islands will become wetter, and half will become drier by 2050. However, new research by Nature Climate Change contends that the number of islands that are likely to become drier by mid-century is actually 73 per cent.


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Current calculations provide estimates that are based on the amount of rainfall, but they don’t account for what happens on the surface of small islands with phenomena such as evaporation. According to the study, this underestimation stems from the coarseness of GCMs, which in turn results in their inaccuracy. The models are based on a grid-like division of the Earth into squares of approximately 240 by 210 km. This makes it impossible for tiny islands, or even groups of islands, to be accounted for in the calculations of climate change effects on small segments of land.  


Applying techniques borrowed from civil engineering to the model, the new study calculates the evaporation phenomenon happening on the surface of small islands in various climatic scenarios, based on variables such as  wind, solar radiation and temperature.  


Small islands are already faced with rising sea levels as a consequence of climate change. “Hopefully this information will be helpful out on the ground as islands plan for their future needs” says the paper’s lead author Kris Karnauskas of the University of Colorado. “We can’t really hold these small island nations responsible for climate change, when their contribution is so negligible,” he added.  



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Small island populations rely on freshwater as their main drinking water resource, and some face health problems due to water quality. Increased water scarcity would aggravate the pressure on these already fragile water systems, posing a threat to their very survival.

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