This video segment adapted from Bullfrog Films examines the possible effects of global warming on the Pacific island of Samoa. For many Samoans who grew up with a subsistence way of life, learning to cope with natural disasters is nothing new. But, as Penehuru Lefale—the climatologist interviewed in the video—asserts, extreme weather events appear to be on the rise, threatening the survival of a Polynesian culture that is thousands of years old.
This media asset was adapted from Andrea Torrice's "Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands" distributed by Bullfrog Films.
Much of the world is experiencing the undeniable effects of global warming. These effects are reshaping the landscape, altering the web of life, and in some cases, displacing entire communities. For example, as sea ice melts more extensively in the Arctic, it exposes coastal villages to severe erosion. With less ice reflecting sunlight away, a positive feedback loop further accelerates warming. The impacts of this melting are already being felt far away from the poles.
While surface temperatures may not be rising as quickly in tropical regions as in polar ones, low-lying islands near the Equator, including those that comprise American Samoa, are dealing with an important consequence of a warming atmosphere: sea-level rise. Melting continental ice produces an influx of water to the oceans. This by itself causes sea level to rise incrementally. As the atmosphere warms due to the increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases, so does the ocean. Because adding heat causes water to expand, sea level rises even more. According to the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this natural phenomenon, called thermal expansion, will contribute more to sea-level rise this century than any other environmental factor.
Some climatologists such as Penehuru Lefale think that changing conditions possibly brought on by global warming may also be causing more frequent and intense storms. They argue that higher sea surface temperatures and water levels are producing larger storm surges than in years past. A storm surge is formed when the swirling winds of a tropical cyclone pile up ocean water around the eye of the storm in a dome shape. As the storm nears the land, the shallower seafloor blocks the retreat of water, and the water surges on land. Storm surges produce dangerous flooding, which destroys buildings and causes drowning.
Sea-level rise is also increasing coastal and inland erosion. This poses a further threat to Native villages and essential infrastructure, including roadways and airports. While there is no clear trend in data to confirm the climatologists' assertions, researchers continue to investigate a link between global warming and tropical storm frequency and intensity.
Despite being responsible for just 0.03 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, Pacific island nations will be among the first human casualties of global warming. According to at least one government forecast, sea level in the Asia-Pacific region could rise as much as 48 centimeters (19 inches) beyond current levels by 2070. With about a third of the world's population living within 100 meters (325 feet) of an ocean coastline, on land that lies at or only slightly above present sea level, sea-level rise is justifiably a major concern.
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