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Impact of Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on the Freshwater Resources of Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll

Project Chief: Stephen B. Gingerich
Project Period: October 2013 through January 2017
Cooperator: U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program
Location: Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands


Observations show that global sea level is rising at a rate almost double the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report. While the rates of sea-level rise and the ultimate elevations of global sea level by 2100 are debated, the existing data and predictive models all suggest that sea level will be higher by the end of the century and that it will have a profound impact on low-lying coastal areas.

Sea-level rise is particularly critical for low-lying coral atoll islands, many of which have maximum elevations of less than 4 meters (about 13 feet) above present sea level. The amount of land and water available for human habitation, water and food sources, and ecosystems is limited and extremely vulnerable to inundation from sea-level rise. Infrastructure and freshwater supplies on Kwajalein have been impacted by anomalously high sea level and wave-driven inundation in the past.


The objective of this four-year study is to assess the effects of sea-level rise and climate change on the freshwater resources of Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll. A variety of scenarios will be assessed based on historic information, sea-level rise scenarios, and global climate model projections.

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program is funding this study as part of a larger study on the impact of sea-level rise and climate change on Department of Defense installations on atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

Relevance and Benefits

The results from this study are necessary for the proper management of the water resources on atoll islands. The study is consistent with the USGS Science Strategy to provide citizens, communities, natural-resource managers, and policymakers with a clearer knowledge of the status of their water resources. Information generated by this study will yield immediate practical benefits to the Department of Defense by providing new understanding of the impacts of sea-level rise and climate change on facilities on other Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls.


Map of Kwajalein Atoll

This investigation will be focused on the island of Roi-Namur, which is part of Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (fig. 1). The study approach will include (1) data collection of groundwater temperature, salinity, and depth; (2) estimation of groundwater recharge for current and projected future conditions; and (3) development of a 3-D groundwater model. Results from this study will be published in scientific journals and made available on the internet.

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