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Scientist Vandhna Kumar and podcast host Ingjald Pilskog, in the Varmere, våtere, villere festival podcast booth. (Photo: Gudrun Sylte)

Podcast: Sea level rise in the Pacific Islands

Vandhna Kumar on sea level rise in the Pacific Islands, and her climate change motivations taking her from Fiji to Bergen.


In Bergen mid-March, the climate festival Varmere, våtere, villere (Warmer, wetter, wilder) filled three floors in Bergen over three days, for talks and debates on climate change and necessary solutions.

Vandhna Kumar, postdoctoral fellow at the Geophysical Institute (GFI) and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate research, is from Fiji, and works in the OceanStates project at the University of Bergen.

At the festival she was in the "Around the World with Climate Science" to talk about her experiences from climate change in Fiji, and motivated her to become a climate scientist.

"Climate change, like for all our neighbours, is a pressing issue, but the problem is there are not enough technical resources or human capacity to have people cope with this sudden change."

She joined host Ingjald Pilskog in the festival podcast booth:

Via her Master's at University of the South Pacific (USP), and later in Melbourne and PhD at University of Toulouse, she has been working specifically on projecting and simulating sea level rise in the Pacific Islands.

Climate models perform well on a global scale, they are not as good when you zoom in on local scales, as the resolutions of the models may span over too large areas to be able to show granular climate information. 

For instance, in the vast Pacific Ocean, the trade winds are constantly pushing the water from the east towards the the island states in the western Pacific ocean. The ocean is not flat, and the strength of the wind has a lot to say on the sea level for the island states. The wind patterns are also controlled by the interannual cycles of the El Nino and La Nina events.

"The sea levels on the western end of the Pacific Basin are around half a meter higher than in the east, because of the wind. Things like El Nino has always been there, but now, because of sea level rise, the higher or lower water you would have experienced during these episodes will now be greater."

The Ocean States project is looking at how climate change and sea level rise affects the marine future of the exclusive economic zones (200 nautical miles outside the coast) in islands of the Pacific Ocean. If sea level rise decreases the size of a nation, what happens with the outer margins of these zones?

"Because the islands are often very small, the area of the ocean is much larger than the land area. The future of the maritime zones have large implications for the economic situation and livelihoods here. Large chunks of the economic zones could be lost," Vandhna says. 

In the interdisciplinary OceanStates projects, she works with the natural sciences questions, in collaboration with scientists on international law and social anthropology.

"We're looking at the same question from different angles!"