In the South Pacific, the volcanic islands of American Samoa rise from the ocean.
Most residents of the U.S. territory live near the shorelines, in coastal plains that surround steep, rugged peaks.
But as seas rise, ocean water is creeping into these low-lying areas. And a huge earthquake in 2009 caused the land to settle and sink, accelerating the problem.
“The yard I used to have extended about 80 feet from my steps and it was all grass up to the last coconut tree before the mangroves. And now that whole area is intertidal zone with mud crab holes everywhere and no grass left,” says Kelley Anderson Tagarino, the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension agent based at American Samoa Community College.
“Our power lines, our water lines, sewage lines — all of those things are running quite close to the shoreline at low elevations and are having increasing issues with flooding and salt corrosion,” she says.
Tagarino says that by the end of the century, most of the international airport and sections of major roadways are expected to be underwater.
So she says keeping American Samoa safe will require research and federal investment in programs that can help the islands adapt.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media