- KOROR, Palau (AFP) - Other
phenomena than global warming could be to blame for the rising oceans which
Pacific islands say are encroaching on their land, a scientist told South
Pacific Forum officials Monday.
- It was possible the Pacific Ocean was rising by up to
two millimetres a year but the effect was wildly variable across the region,
the director of Australia's National Tidal Facility of Flinders University,
Wolfgang Scherer, said.
- In some places such as Rabaul in Papua New Guinea rising
volcanoes were causing land levels to rise while part of Australia was
getting higher, causing the sea level to drop.
- Climate change is one of the major themes of the 30th
South Pacific Forum summit meeting on its second day in the northern Pacific
island nation of Palau Monday.
- Leaders have tended to blame global warming on the industrial
world saying it has created an environment in which sea levels are rising,
bringing flooding to low-lying atoll states.
- Earlier this year, Kiribati claimed two of its islets
in Tarawa had "disappeared" due to rising sea levels while Tuvalu,
to the south, claims its coastline is sinking.
- Scherer, who is part of a Pacific-wide sea level monitoring
programme, said it was virtually impossible to identify any manmade effect
in sea level change.
- "You are playing a millimetre game with millimetre
effects," he said, adding he would not want to speculate at this point
on whether anything long-term was happening to the sea level.
- The data was too little and too recent, he said.
- However, he said it was clear that relative sea level
rises in places like Kiribati may have nothing to do with the global situation
but could be blamed on the use of freshwater aquifers under each atoll.
- If such aquifers are over-used by the local population
atolls can rise and fall, letting in more sea water to replace fresh ground
water and flooding garden pits, giving the effect of sea level rises.
- "The land itself is not stable, it is moving and
often it is moving because of local issues."
- He said the early data suggested the Pacific sea level
might be rising by an average of two millimetres a year, but this was not
uniform across the region and was often based on data less than 10 years
- In Kiribati, data was showing the sea level fell by 21
millimetres while just to the north in the Marshalls islands the levels
rose 2.9 millimetres.
- "We are not finding places where the sea-level rise
is very strong," Scherer said.
- Scientists have little idea of what is happening to the
land itself, whether it is rising or falling, and have no solid information
on what the floor of the seabed is doing.
- "The question is what is happening to the volume
of the oceans, that is the real critical question ... and we are a long
way from being able to do that problem."
- While scientists cannot demonstrate any sea level rise
or any relationship to manmade activities, Scherer said there was the possibility
that global warming could speed up any increases.
- "We cannot preclude the very definite possibility
that the ocean may respond with an acceleration of sea level rise, even
in the shorter term."