Tuvalu 2011 (4)
The island of Fongafale, part of Funafuti Atoll of Tuvalu, is the capital of the nation and home to about half the total 12,500 population. The island is only 500 meters wide at the widest, but most is much narrower, a thin strand about 60 meters wide and about 6 km long. The coral ridge along the ocean is no more than roughly 5 meters high, and along the lagoon the ridge is about a meter lower. Between sea level rise and severe storms, the seat of government is at risk of flooding. The tides of February 2011 reached within about a meter of the national government building.
The island of Fongafale, part of Funafuti Atoll of Tuvalu, can be severely affected by periodic extra high tides called King tides. The tides of February 2011 reached within about a meter of the level of the national government building, on the central lagoon. New surveys just completed measured the lagoon ridge at about 4.12 m above zero tide mesaurement -- and the high tides of 18 and 19 February were at 3.24 m. Winds were light and there were no storms, so waves did not push the high tide over the ridge as has happened during other years.
The center of the island is a basin, with some low spots 2 to 3 meters above the zero tide measurement. Even on calm King tide days, when waves do not crash over the high ocean and lagoon ridges, the pressure of the rising ocean forces ground water up into the low areas through the porous coral rock. Thus in areas like this along the nation's only runway and in populous neighborhoods of the capital, flooding begins shortly after the high tides.
At the height of the King tides water is seen everywhere bubbling up through holes in the ground. This area across from the airport terminal continued to flood more than an hour after high tide.
The large expanse of water along the airport which welled up from high tide pressure backed into the power plant compound. If a King tide happened during a severe storm, if large cyclone or tsunami waves flowed into this area, or with continuing sea level rise, water could possibly reach the power plant.
Senior Climate Observer Kilateli Epu makes the daily 6 pm weather observations on 18 February, reading the temperature at the weather station. The Meteorological Department is in a low area near the runway, and water from the pressure of the King tides rises around her feet and in the background.
In every low spot of the island of Fongafale, Tuvalu, including all along the US built runway and access airport road, water seeps out under pressure from the ocean tides.
Flooding surrounds a church meeting hall, in which a party was being held.
Residents of Fongafale, Funafuti, Tuvalu wade in King tide water as they leave a party in a church meeting hall, Feb 18, 2011.
Resdients of Fongafale, Funafuti, Tuvalu wade in King tide water as they leave a party in a church meeting hall, Feb 18, 2011.
These two kids, Meere 9 years old and Falevac, now 17, who were the subject of Gary Braasch's 2005 photograph during the King tides of that year, have lived with this periodic flooding for all their lives.
Even further inland from the ocean and during good weather, flooding occurs during King tides. Much more severe flooding and damage can happen when the tides are accompanied by winds and large ocean waves. Many say that the flooding is higher now than in the past. Severe flooding from the interior intrusion was reportedlly very high in 2007 causing evcuation of many families from their homes to higher areas.
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