for National Geographic News
A chain of tiny, remote Hawaiian islands could become the largest marine sanctuary in the U.S. as soon as next year.
But the rare wildlife living there could disappear beneath the waves by the end of this century because of global warming, a new study warns.
A team of Hawaii-based scientists calculates that two-thirds of some islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) could be submerged by 2100.
A scattered archipelago stretching some 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean, NWHI is home to colonies of unique animals that may be swamped as their low-lying islands succumb to rising sea levels, researchers say.
Animals at risk include rare seals, sea turtles, and bird species found only on NWHI.
The NWHI consist of islands, atolls, and pristine coral reefs and are slated to form part of the largest national marine sanctuary in the United States, if approved by the Bush Administration.
Threats to the islands from future sea level rise were assessed for the first time by a team led by Jason Baker of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Studies suggest that sea levels rose almost 6 inches (15 centimeters) during the 20th century.
Levels are expected to rise farther and faster this century, as global warming accelerates the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, and as higher water temperatures expand the volume of the world's oceans.
The team created 3-D computer models of NWHI to gauge the possible impact of future sea level rises using scenarios forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based in Gland, Switzerland.
Their findings suggest that by 2100 up to 65 percent of some islands would be lost if the sea level rose 18.9 inches (48 centimeters), which is the average IPCC projection.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES