Island abandonment and sea-level rise: An historical analog from the Chesapeake Bay, USA

Type

Journal Article

Author(s)

Arenstam Gibbons, Sheila J.
Nicholls, Robert J.

Title

Island abandonment and sea-level rise: An historical analog from the Chesapeake Bay, USA

Date

2006

Journal

Global Environmental Change

Vol (No), pp

16(1), 40-47

Abstract

Small islands are widely agreed to be vulnerable to human-induced sea-level rise during the 21st century and beyond, with forced abandonment of some low-lying oceanic islands being a real possibility. A regional abandonment of islands in the Chesapeake Bay, USA provides an historical analog of such vulnerability as this has been linked to a mid 19th Century acceleration in relative sea-level rise. Using a case study approach for Holland Island, Maryland, this hypothesis was tested using a range of physical and human historical data. While sea-level rise was the underlying driver, this analysis shows that the abandonment was more complex than a direct response to sea-level rise. Between 1850 and 1900, Holland Island was a booming community and population increased from 37 to 253, with immigration causing the majority of the increase. At the same time, the upland area where people made their homes was steadily diminishing, losing about 15 ha or 38% of the total. After 1900, the island experienced a decrease in population to 169 in 1916, with final abandonment in 1918, with the exception of one family who left by 1920. Final abandonment was triggered by this depopulation as the population fell below a level that could support critical community services, and the community lost faith in their future on Holland Island. It is likely that similar social processes determined the abandonment of the other Chesapeake Bay islands. Looking to the future, it shows that many small low-lying islands could be abandoned due to sea-level rise long before they become physically uninhabitable.

Citation

Arenstam Gibbons, S. J., Nicholls, R. J. (2006). Island abandonment and sea-level rise: An historical analog from the Chesapeake Bay, USA. Global Environmental Change, 16(1), 40-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2005.10.002

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