Along with the polar bear, small islands – often pictured in photos of white sandy beaches, turquoise seas and a lone palm tree – have become a symbol of the impacts of climate change and global sea level rise. The growing international awareness of and compassion for vulnerable places makes small islands an important topic in socio-economic studies on the impact of sea level rise, intensified storm activity and ocean acidification.
The IPCC projects that seas, expanding from heat and from the runoff of melting land ice, may rise by up to 1.94 feet (0.59 meters) by 2100, swamping much of the scarce land of coral atolls. The islands may, however, become uninhabitable long before the waves wash over them. Rising sea levels lead to increased beach erosion, reduced space for the relocation or realignment of settlements and other land-uses, intrusion of saline sea water in fresh water reservoirs and onto agricultural land among other direct impacts. Small islands can be considered as "canaries of the coalmine" - what happens here in a direct and perhaps unanticipated fashion may affect larger territories not long afterwards.
A global perspective on this issue, taking small islands as generally under threat neglects the important and substantial regional differences that exist among islands in different parts of the world. Small islands furthermore often face major natural hazards and threats not all of which are related to climate change and may indeed be due to more localised factors. From a social science perspective it is important to understand how regional climate change interacts with and transforms the social structures and ways of life of coastal communities. Important here is the social basis of adaptive capacity, the structure of social networks and the role of collective responses.
Comparative research and analysis of the ongoing processes and challenges faced in diverse case studies contributes to our understanding of the specific situation of small islands. Where it is available, appropriate scientific knowledge can inform decision-making, planning and policy development. Targeted science-policy interaction can help avoid losses of valuable coastal areas, develop cost-efficient management strategies and learn from good (and poor) practices in adaptation.
The Integrated Island Database (IIDAB) serves as a research support tool designed to assist and facilitate island case studies on a comparative level. Its structure allows for the selection of small islands according to a wide range of comparative indicators. The database draws on the published data of international organizations (including World Bank, CIA, NOAA, UN) as well as published data from individual island case studies. It is not our aim to compile the complete “world of islands”. We intend however to work with a growing selection of natural and social science island data. A key feature of IIDAB is the ability to search and filter according to specific criteria and parameters, allowing for the direct comparison across islands and island groups (see „ how to use “).
We, at the island working group at the University of Hamburg / CEN (Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability) hope you will find the database to be a valuable support for your island research. Should you have any contributions, questions or remarks - please do not hesitate to contact us!
Enjoy the search in the IIDAB,
Solutions to the island brain teasers of the book: Beate M.W. Ratter (2018): "Geography of Small Islands - Outposts of Globalisation", Springer SBM, NL. ISBN 978-3-319-63867-6/
Buy this book: http://www.springer.com/la/book/9783319638676