Sea level rise mapping reaches Vanuatu

By on 19 December, 2016


Pacific Islanders living in Vanuatu can for the first time visualise how their homes, neighbourhoods and even popular tourist spots will be inundated by sea level rise caused by global climate change.

The Coastal Risk Vanuatu website, created in Australia and openly launched last week, charts the low-lying coastline on a number of Vanuatu islands. The free platform incorporates Google Maps technology, local tidal data and nationwide elevation data to map exactly how rising sea levels will encroach on homes, villages and beaches under three scientific scenarios.

Coastal Risk Vanuatu was developed by NGIS Australia and CRCSI and builds on earlier work to help scope and prepare communities in the Pacific Islands for sea level rise that was pioneered by the two organisations and funded by the Australian Government.

Vanuatu is already coping with the impacts of climate change, but science tells us worse is to come.” – Nathan Eaton, NGIS.

Earlier in 2016, Coastal Risk Australia was launched to map Australia in a similar manner. The platform drew media attention the world over as one of the first interactive seal level rise web maps. It charted extensive risk areas in populated areas spanning the length of Australia’s coastline, including most of Australia’s capital cities.

Now, the Coastal Risk approach has been brought to a nation on the frontline of sea level rise. Like many low-lying island nations, Vanuatu is at a high risk of damaging sea level rise. Across the globe, sea levels have risen an average of 17cm over the course of the 20th century, and scientists are forecasting a further rise to between 0.4–1.1m over the remainder of this century. In Vanuatu, sea level rise is a very real concept, with a number of communities already being inundated during high tides.


The website being showcased at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco by Rebecca Moore from Google. Moore is director of engineering of Google Earth, Earth Engine and Earth Outreach.

To avoid the growing threat, Coastal Risk has gone a step further this time with Vanuatu by incorporating social media photos and UAV imagery captured during the first response recovery post Cyclone Pam in 2015.

Among the high risk areas mapped by Coastal Risk Vanuatu are the nation’s harbourside capital of Port Vila, popular tourist destination Mele Island also known as “Hideaway Island,” Vanuatu’s second largest city Luganville and the remote agricultural island of Melakula.

NGIS Australia’s Nathan Eaton said residents of Vanuatu were already on the frontline of climate change, and authorities and local communities need as much information and assistance as possible to help them prepare for what was to come.

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“Vanuatu is already coping with the impacts of climate change, but science tells us worse is to come,” Eaton said. “In planning for this, individuals, communities and governments need as much information as possible so they can target their efforts to wherever needs it most.

“For example, it’s not practical to build sea walls around entire islands and our web mapping tool provides decision makers with the ability to protect the communities most at risk.”


A residential and commercial area in Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila. Areas under threat of inundation are shown in blue.

In addition to informing communities and business about how they might be affected by sea level rise, it will also give new insights for key decision makers.

Vanuatu’s Director General of Climate Change Jesse Benjamin said, “The Coastal Risk Vanuatu website will build awareness regarding the challenges that Vanuatu faces with climate change, and will ultimately lead to more effective decision making.”

Even those who are not from Vanuatu can now use Coastal Risk to see how climate change is poised to affect both local communities and holiday spots.

“Building on the technical capabilities drawn from Australian research agencies, we now have the ability to accurately map coastlines to understand the impact of changing sea levels”, said Dr Nathan Quadros, CRCSI. “Through this easy-to-use sea level rise visualisation tool Vanuatu will have access to the best information for their coastal adaptation planning”.

Dr Quadros indicated that further localised coastal risk websites for other Pacific Island nation will be developed in the coming months.

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