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Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

The Impact of Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on Pacific Ocean Atolls that House Department of Defense Installations

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Aerial photograph of Kwajalein Atoll showing its low-lying islands and coral reefs. Photograph showing the impact of a large wave at the south shore of Laysan Island, with endangered Laysan teal in the foreground. Photograph on Roi-Namur Island during an overwash event, March 2014. Photograph on Roi-Namur Island during an overwash event, March 2014. Photograph on Roi-Namur Island during an overwash event, March 2014.

This study is a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Deltares (an applied research institute in the Netherlands), and the University of Hawaii (UH). The goals of this study are to:

  1. provide basic understanding and specific information on storm-wave-induced overwash and inundation of atoll islets that house Department of Defense (DoD) installations, and
  2. assess the resulting impact of sea-level rise and storm-wave inundation on infrastructure and freshwater availability under a variety of sea-level rise and climatic scenarios, based on historical information, sea-level rise predictions, and global climate model (GCM) wind, wave, and precipitation output.

Read more in Overview.

News Photo.

Many Low-Lying Atoll Islands Will Be Uninhabitable by Mid-21st Century

Sea-level rise and wave-driven flooding will negatively impact freshwater resources on many low-lying atoll islands in such a way that many could be uninhabitable in just a few decades.
Read the April 25, 2018 USGS News Release


Saltwater contamination of freshwater resources could make many atoll islands uninhabitable in decades

Sea-level rise and wave-driven flooding could introduce saltwater so frequently into atoll islands’ freshwater resources that many will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century, according to a new study published in Science Advances.


Documentary about sea-level rise threatening the Republic of the Marshall Islands features USGS findings

USGS research in the Republic of the Marshall Islands forms part of the scientific foundation of an interactive documentary released April 6 by PBS Frontline.
View “The Last Generation.”


Pacific Missile Tracking Site Could Be Unusable in 20 Years Due to Climate Change

Living and working on the Pacific islands hosting a key missile tracking site soon could be almost impossible due to the impacts of climate change.


International workshop on “Understanding Flooding on Reef-lined Island Coastlines”

USGS research geologist Curt Storlazzi led a workshop, from 5–7 February 2018. Participants assessed the state of the science, identified knowledge gaps, and explored ways to produce real-time flood forecasts and improve climate-change impact assessments.

See all news stories


Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding - Science Advances 4

A Bayesian-Based System to Assess Wave-Driven Flooding Hazards on Coral Reef-Lined Coasts - Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

BEWARE database: A Bayesian-based system to assess wave-driven flooding hazards on coral reef-lined coasts - U.S. Geological Survey data release

Atoll Groundwater Movement and Its Response to Climatic and Sea-Level Fluctuations - Water 9

Wave dynamics and flooding on low-lying tropical reef-lined coasts - Coastal Dynamics 2017

Land-use change and managed aquifer recharge effects on the hydrogeochemistry of two contrasting atoll island aquifers, Roi-Namur Island, Republic of the Marshall Islands - Applied Geochemistry 80

Exponential increase in coastal flooding frequency due to sea-level rise - Nature Scientific Reports 7

Observations of wave transformation over a fringing coral reef and the importance of low-frequency waves and offshore water levels to runup, overwash, and coastal flooding - Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 121

Identification and classification of very low frequency waves on a coral reef flat - Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 121

Changes to extreme wave climates of islands within the Western Tropical Pacific throughout the 21st century under RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5, with implications for island vulnerability and sustainability - Global and Planetary Change 141

See all publications

Recommended citation: Laura Zink Torresan, and Curt D. Storlazzi, 2014, “The Impact of Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on Department of Defense Installations on Atolls in the Pacific Ocean”, US Geological Survey, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, DOI: 10.5066/F7QR4V4C

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U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
DOI: 10.5066/F7QR4V4C
Contact: Curt Storlazzi
Last modified 2014