In Tonga, a volcano-triggered tsunami underscores islands' acute climate risk

Author

Kanupriya Kapoor

Gloria Dickie

Source(s)
Thomson Reuters

For the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, the tsunami unleashed by Saturday's volcanic eruption laid bare some of the ways that climate change is threatening the islands' very existence.

By increasing temperatures and driving up sea levels, climate change will likely worsen disasters wrought by tsunamis, storm surges, and heat waves, experts say.

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Tonga reported that waves of up to 15 meters crashed ashore on its outer islands after the volcanic eruption, flattening homes and killing at least three people. The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific. read more 

As sea levels continue to rise in coming decades, tsunamis and storm surges will likely be reaching further inland with even more risk of damage.

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The damage from tsunamis and storm surges doesn't stop at wave destruction. Sea water that washes ashore can taint agricultural soil and leave it useless for years. Tsunami waves also exacerbate coastal erosion and destroy natural buffers against rising seas, such as coral reefs and mangroves.

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Tongan temperatures are already rising, with the average daily temperature now 0.6°C higher than it was in 1979. The frequency of hot days and hot nights has gone up across the Pacific.

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