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1 June 2009
Rising seas could spell doom for Orkney islands

The Orkney island of Sanday (Scotland), like the Maldives, may be 'uninhabitable' by the end of the century, a leading climate scientist warned. More dramatically, some experts fear the long, low-lying spit of land could split into two or more islands within the lifetimes of its 500 residents. Sanday, and neighbouring North Ronaldsay, are now seen as so-called bellwether islands. Their low elevation and exposed positions mean they will be among the first places in the western world to face the brunt of global warming, even if the most optimistic predictions come true.
     Kevin Anderson, climate change expert and professor at Manchester University, said: "What threatens them is a mix of quite small rises in sea level and a jump in the frequency and severity of storms." Sanday and North Ronaldsay have always suffered from the weather. Their sea defences have been breached many times. But storms, locals acknowledge, have been getting tougher and more regular. Sanday has suffered several bouts of flooding that has split one side of the island from another, albeit temporarily. Some islanders are now talking of giving land to newcomers in exchange for helping with engineering work to stave off the effects of climate change.
     Orkney's internationally important neolithic sites are also at risk, with archaeologists now openly debating how and when they will abandon Skara Brae, the stone age village unearthed, ironically, by huge storms and now precariously nestled behind an eroding sandy beach. Orkney's council leader, Stephen Hagan, described changes in the islands's climate so far as subtle. But he added: "There is nothing we can physically do to stop rising sea levels."

Source: The Scotsman (31 May 2009)

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