6 Places Where the Ground is Disappearing Right Beneath Our Feet

Rising sea levels worldwide are just one of many environmental consequences of climate change, and they’re becoming a significant pressure for low-lying communities. These locales are on the front lines of climate change, experiencing rising sea levels firsthand and making radical changes in their lives, like relocating to a new country, as a result.

Some people refer to those forced out of their homelands as climate refugees or environmental refugees, positioning them as victims of climate change. Relocation of this nature is not without serious ramifications and consequences, including increased population pressures in already crowded nations, marginalization of native people and complex political issues.

Others resist the concept of “climate refugees,” preferring to note that migration is one way to approach climate change, and that migration and mobility may not be as simple as framed by the West.

1. The Maldives

14 islands in this Indian Ocean country have already been abandoned due to erosion. Scientists predict the Maldives may be the first nation in the world lost to climate change, and the President, along with other personnel, are searching for a new home for the country’s 350,000 residents as they run out of high ground to flee to. These low-lying islands, like MalÚ (above) are likely to be swamped if sea levels get much higher.

Sri Lanka and India are both potential new homes for the residents of the Maldives, because they’re close by and they share a number of cultural similarities. Another possibility is Australia, with large amounts of ground and a potentially better climate.

2. Tuvalu

11,000 people call this Polynesian archipelago “home,” ábut the sea is eating away at its borders, presenting a quandary for islanders who soon may find themselves without an island. The entire nation covers just ten square miles about four inches above sea level, making it tiny on a global scale, but no less important. And Tuvalu’s situation is raising some important questions when it comes to international law, namely: when your country no longer physically exists, what happens to you? Are you stateless? Is your nation virtual? How do you maintain your national identity?

Many Tuvaluans are relocating to New Zealand, thanks to its proximity.

3. Newtok, Alaska

In Alaska, most indigenous communities are on the coast, so residents can access fishing and hunting. That spells bad news when sea levels are rising and taking the coast with them. This small community has become the subject of international headlines as it becomes one of the first places in the U.S. erased by climate change. Most of the 350 residents are Yupik Alaska Natives with deep ties to the land, which makes relocation no simple matter, even if it was affordable — estimates put the cost at around $130 million.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains it’s not possible to conserve Newtok, which means the residents need to make a decision about where, and how, to relocate soon. Members of the community, however, are torn between ties to the land, financial considerations and concerns that any site they choose may come with problems of its own.

4. Kiribati

32 coral atolls and one raised limestone island sprawled across two million miles of the Central Pacific make up the nation of Kiribati. The average height above sea level is just six feet, with a shrinking freshwater supply to complicate matters even further. Residents experience a high poverty rate and the myriad problems that come with it, like shockingly high infant mortality, low education and limited economic power when it comes to relocating or advocating for other solutions. 100,000 residents struggle to survive on these shrinking islands, wondering how long their island home will continue to exist, and where they will go from here.

Migration with dignity to neighboring Australia may be the best option for many as Kiribati slips beneath the waves.

5. Port Fourchon, Louisiana

18% of the daily energy needs of the United States are supported by this key Louisiana port. It might not be home to a native population with a long-established history, but it does highlight the national security ramifications of climate change and vanishing ground, because the area around the port slowly disappears under rising seas, it’s less able to function. And that’s not good for keeping up a steady supply of oil products to ensure stable prices and supplies.

The government is adapting to the risks of increased flooding with a variety of approaches including raised roadways and berms in an attempt to keep Port Fourchon operational, but the site bears close watching as an example of a locale where climate change and daily business directly clash.

6. North Pole 40, the Arctic

Russian researchers in the Arctic had an unpleasant surprise this year when the ice floe they were using as a research station started breaking up under them. Despite a long history of safely using ice floes for this very purpose, the Russian government had finally met its match with climate change, and entered a race against time to dispatch icebreakers to rescue the researchers and recover as much equipment as possible. The rapid melting rate of Arctic sea ice may make this kind of research station obsolete — and, of course, it’s those very same melting ice floes that are contributing to the rising sea levels around the globe.

Photo credit: Jim Trodel


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Casey Loufek
Casey Loufek4 years ago

Most of the doomsday scenarios involve what will happen in a few decades if nothing is done. So far we have small rises in temperature and very minimal change in sea level. Early models predicted too rapid change by not accounting for global dimming from carbon, which does not reverse global warming but does reduce it by about 50%, and oceans absorbing the carbon. We have time to fix this if we work with eyes open instead of being in denial or acting as if the sky is falling.

Casey Loufek
Casey Loufek4 years ago

First off, yes there is climate change and yes humans are a major factor in it. The counter arguments I've seen come from a handful of individuals and while some raise good points they all wind up making even worse mistakes in their models than the ones they are attempting to refute.

Gerry has it correct. Note that most of these places have theoretical problems or erosion problems. When you look at the actual rise in sea levels it is very small so far, which makes sense as land ice has just begun to melt.

Kiribati has serious problems that are compounded by climate change but mostly in the form of violent weather and flooding which pollutes their groundwater with sea water. Kiribati may already be uninhabitable by the time sea levels seriously start to rise.

Nick, how is it you both deny human involvement in climate change and also peg China as the main culprit? I agree with a lot of your points but I can't agree that the Earth isn't warming or that human oil use isn't involved. I do agree we need to address China. While it's absurd to think human CO2 emissions aren't a problem the US's emission rates are falling even while global levels increase. China burns more coal in dirty plants which do more damage than other methods.

Most of the doomsday scenarios involve what will happen in a few decades if nothing is done. So far we have small rises in temperature and very minimal change in sea level. Early models predicted too rapid change by not accounting for global d

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

For the ignorant and self centered climate change deniers trying to water this down with some feeble excuse, this is not a cyclically natural occurence which might happens over millions of years and which the once intact planetary life systems can adapt to. When you pump 20 billion tons of human emitted unabsorbed CO2 into the atmosphere every year, it has to go somewhere, and it does, it lingers in the upper atmosphere and stays there for an average of 100 years., where it acts chemically as greenhouse gas..simple reality and physics. And noone is claiming that sea ice is raising the ocean levels, it's from the land ice melting at accelerating rates from continent sized ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica. This is an planetary catastrophe and HUMANS are fully responsible.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

"Male" isn't what you call a tropical island.. it's an tiny island prison of human concrete and structures, no trees or vegetation left, perfect example of nature destroyed and nowhere to expand to. The same result happened to Easter Island a long time ago, all the trees were cut down animals and birds killed off, and the Easter Islanders died off. Earth is an island in space, and the same thing will happen on a planetary scale, humans will destroy Earth and force their own extnction only it will take a bit longer. Humans are so predictable.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago


Chitram Manisha
Chitram Manisha4 years ago


Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago

sadly noted

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago

Not fair on these people and places, and also the animals/birds/trees that live there.