The Tangier Islands in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, USA, have lost the majority of their landmass since 1850, according to research published in Scientific Reports. The study suggests that if sea levels continue to rise at the present rate, the islands will be lost within 100 years, and will have to be abandoned by the local population in approximately 50 years.
The Tangier Islands are a complex of several islands including Goose, Uppards, Port Isobel and the largest, Tangier, and were settled by European colonists in the 1700s. As of 2013, 727 people live on Tangier Island.
David Schulte and colleagues analysed geo-referenced maps and aerial photographs of the islands dating from between 1850 and 2013 and found that by 2013, only 33.25% of the 1850 landmass remained, owing to erosion and sea level rises. Based on these data, the authors constructed a model to predict the future lifespan of the island system. If historical rates of land loss and sea level rises continue, the authors predict that by 2038, Goose Island will be completely flooded, and by 2113, Uppards Island will be lost. The authors also suggest that the town of Tangier, on Tangier Island, is likely to be uninhabitable by 2063.
Although the authors’ projections are based on a conservative scenario for sea level rise, they suggest that if sea levels rise faster than predicted, this will lead to more rapid land losses and the town having to be abandoned even sooner.