Bjorn Lomborg in WSJ

Using historic aerial photographs and high-resolution satellite imagery, Auckland University scientists Murray Ford and Paul Kench recently analyzed shoreline changes on six atolls and two mid-ocean reef islands in the Marshall Islands. Their peer-reviewed study, published in the September 2015 issue of Anthropocene, revealed that since the middle of the 20th century the total land area of the islands has actually grown.

 How is that possible? It seems self-evident that rising sea levels will reduce land area. However, there is a process of accretion, where coral broken up by the waves washes up on these low-lying islands as sand, counteracting the reduction in land mass. Research shows that this process is overpowering the erosion from sea-level rise, leading to net land-area gain.

This is not only true for the Marshall Islands. The researchers write that within the “recently emerging body of shoreline change studies on atoll islands there is little evidence of widespread reef island erosion. To the contrary, several studies have documented noteworthy shoreline progradation [growth] and positional changes of islands since the mid-20th century, resulting in a net increase in island area.” The most famous of these studies, published in 2010 by Paul Kench and Arthur Webb of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji, showed that of 27 Pacific islands, 14% lost area. Yet 43% gained area, with the rest remaining stable.