Lesson 6.7: Science Connection

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Paradise Lost

With warm breezes, crystal-blue water, and swaying coconut palms, the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu seems like a beautiful tropical paradise.

Tuvalu on the map

Lately, however, residents of Tuvalu have had a sinking feeling. That's because their tiny island nation, located halfway between Hawaii and Australia, is disappearing before their very eyes.

The water surrounding Tuvalu (too-VAH-loo) is slowly rising. Some scientists predict the ocean will completely cover the country within 50 years. Tuvalu's nearly 11,000 residents are already making plans to abandon their homes before the sea swallows their 10 square miles of land.

“The leaders of Tuvalu have conceded defeat in their battle with the rising sea,” said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C.

Rising Tide

Tuvalu is an archipelago, a group of islands. Each of the country's nine islands is an atoll, or a narrow coral reef that surrounds a lagoon.

Unlike many Pacific islands, which were formed from ancient volcanoes, Tuvalu is almost flat. Its highest point is only 15 feet above sea level. That's about the height of a one-story building. The tide is creeping farther inland each day, eroding the shoreline.

Tuvalu's environmental minister, Teleke Lauti, said his island is so small that “It is possible to throw a stone from one side to the other. Our fears about sea level rising are very real.”

Melting Ice Caps

Some scientists blame Tuvalu's watery fate on the effects of global warming. Over the past 100 years, the world's average temperature has risen between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due to carbon dioxide - from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal - building up in Earth's atmosphere.

Some scientists believe that the carbon dioxide is stopping Earth's heat from escaping into space. The buildup of heat is making our planet increasingly warmer. This warming is melting Earth's polar ice caps and, as the ice caps melt, the oceans rise. Scientists predict that if global warming continues at its current rate, with the ice caps continuing to melt, coastal flooding will occur everywhere.

Coastal flooding is already taking place in Tuvalu. The rise in the ocean's level is ruining Tuvalu's agricultural land. Salt water is seeping into the soil, destroying crops.

“The islands are full of holes, and seawater is coming through, flooding areas that weren't normally flooded 10 or 15 years ago,” said Paani Laupepa, from Tuvalu's ministry of natural resources. Eventually, he said, it will be impossible to live on Tuvalu.

As bleak as the future may seem for Tuvalu's residents, there is some good news. New Zealand, almost 2,000 miles to the south, recently agreed to welcome all displaced Tuvaluans over the next ten years.

Having a place to go may be of comfort for Tuvalu natives. But all of them would agree that nothing compares to living in paradise.

Word Wise

A place of ideal beauty or loveliness: The hikers considered the national park paradise because of its wildflower-covered hills and breath-taking mountains.

Leave behind because of danger: The thunderstorm caused us to abandon our plans for field day.

The outcome or result: We waited nervously to hear the fate of our school's hockey program.

Gloomy: He was so far behind in the race that his chances of winning looked bleak.

Remove from the usual place: When Dad could not find his calculator, he knew that one of us had displaced it.

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The prefix dis- means not or opposite. So, you can think of displace as meaning not in place.

The prefix dis- begins many English words. List the words below in which dis- is the prefix meaning not or opposite. Copy the list of words below. Without using a dictionary, can you guess the meaning of each? Write your guesses. Then check the definitions in a dictionary.

  • disappoint
  • disappear
  • dishonest
  • disobey
  • disagree
  • dislike

Data Hunt

Here is what the President of the Town Council of Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, has said, “There is certainly a noticeable erosion effect. The biggest thatched building was in the center of the village. Now it's on the edge. There's been 50 yards of erosion.”

You have learned that the flooding in Tuvalu destroys crops. Now people have to grow some of their crops in metal buckets. One elderly man there observed, “The water is getting higher and higher each year. It's gone up almost a fathom inland.”

A fathom is a unit of length equal to 6 feet. Use what you know about converting measurements of length to answer the following questions.
  1. How man feet are in one yard?
  2. How many yards are in one fathom?
  3. How many feet are in 12 fathoms?
  4. How many yards are in 12 fathoms?