Sustainable Energy

Feel the burn: Islands set to get drier

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Glenn Van Der Knijff | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

A new study looking at the impact of climate change on islands has shown that 73 percent will become "substantially more arid" by the middle of the century, up from a previous estimate of 50 percent.

According to a news release on Monday from the University of Colorado Boulder, global climate models, or GCMs, used by scientists to assess the impacts of climate change, do not take into account thousands of small islands across the planet. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The new model found that because of increased evaporation, 73 percent of islands – rather than 50 percent – would become drier.

"Islands are already dealing with sea level rise," Kris Karnauskas, lead author of the paper and a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, said.

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"But this shows that any rainwater they have is also vulnerable. The atmosphere is getting thirstier, and would like more of that freshwater back," Karnauskas added.

The university said that the issue with small islands being neglected is down to previous GCMs dividing the world into grids, with each "grid box" a vast space, around 240 kilometers by 210 kilometers.

In such a model, it becomes "impractical" to include tiny islands such as Easter Island.

"Using models, it turns out, is much less straightforward for islands than for places where there are big chunks of land," Karnauskas said.

The impact of climate change on islands is potentially huge. A 2014 report from the United Nations Environment Programme stated that the rise in sea surface temperatures and resulting "global net loss of the coral reef cover" would cost an estimated $11.9 trillion to the global economy.