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Tuvalu — a remote island nation in the Pacific — may seem an unlikely scientific battleground. But this tiny developing nation is on the front line of climate change. If sea levels rise as much as many climate change researchers predict, Tuvalu could one day disappear.
The country’s topography makes it vulnerable: the highest land is just five metres above sea level. This year, Tuvalu has had some of its highest ever tides — nearly 1.5 metres above the average.
A sea level rise of 20-40 centimetres in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable, severely eroding coasts, contaminating agricultural land and undermining buildings.
But not of all the scientists who flock to Tuvalu agree on the evidence. In this article in Nature Samir Patel reports on their debates.
Some say the observations show that sea levels are rising much faster on Tuvalu than the global average of two millimetres a year.
Others dispute this, saying the rise is no faster than elsewhere, while some argue that poor coastal management is contributing to erosion in tandem with rising seas.
Meanwhile, Tuvalu itself has taken action — joining the UN specifically to highlight climate change, and making plans for resettlement. While many locals feel this could threaten their cultural identity, it may be the price they have to pay for survival.