Along with the polar bear, small islands – often pictured in photos of white sandy beaches, turquoise seas and a lone palm tree – have become a symbol of the impacts of climate change and global sea level rise. The growing international awareness of and compassion for vulnerable places makes small islands an important topic in socio-economic studies on the impact of sea level rise, intensified storm activity and ocean acidification.
The IPCC projects that seas, expanding from heat and from the runoff of melting land ice, may rise by up to 1.94 feet (0.59 meters) by 2100, swamping much of the scarce land of coral atolls. The islands may, however, become uninhabitable long before the waves wash over them. Rising sea levels lead to increased beach erosion, reduced space for the relocation or realignment of settlements and other land-uses, intrusion of saline sea water in fresh water reservoirs and onto agricultural land among other direct impacts. Small islands can be considered as "canaries of the coalmine" - what happens here in a direct and perhaps unanticipated fashion may affect larger territories not long afterwards.
A global perspective on this issue, taking small islands as generally under threat neglects the important and substantial regional differences that exist among islands in different parts of the world. Small islands furthermore often face major natural hazards and threats not all of which are related to climate change and may indeed be due to more localised factors. From a social science perspective it is important to understand how regional climate change interacts with and transforms the social structures and ways of life of coastal communities. Important here is the social basis of adaptive capacity, the structure of social networks and the role of collective responses.
Comparative research and analysis of the ongoing processes and challenges faced in diverse case studies contributes to our understanding of the specific situation of small islands. Where it is available, appropriate scientific knowledge can inform decision-making, planning and policy development. Targeted science-policy interaction can help avoid losses of valuable coastal areas, develop cost-efficient management strategies and learn from good (and poor) practices in adaptation.
The Integrated Island Database (IIDAB) serves as a research support tool designed to assist and facilitate island case studies on a comparative level. Its structure allows for the selection of small islands according to a wide range of comparative indicators. The database draws on the published data of international organizations (including World Bank, CIA, NOAA, UN) as well as published data from individual island case studies. It is not our aim to compile the complete “world of islands”. We intend however to work with a growing selection of natural and social science island data. A key feature of IIDAB is the ability to search and filter according to specific criteria and parameters, allowing for the direct comparison across islands and island groups (see IIDAB Website).
Island database field list
(complete description of each field in the database)
Name: Full name of the island, island group, or island state
Location: States the ocean or marginal sea where the island, island group, or island state is located
Number of Islands (approx.): States the approximate number of islands of an island group or island state. It is not possible to give an exact number because there is no global valid definition what an island exactly is.
Island Details: Additional information about the composition of island groups and island states, for example how many islands of an archipelago are inhabited or the existence of a main island.
Type of Islands: Simple characterisation according to the basic morphogenetic features of the island, island group, or island state
Surface Area (km²): Surface area of the island, island group, or island state in square kilometres
Terrain: Specific information about the terrain and landscape of the island, island group, or island state to get a first impression
Highest Elevation (m): Altitude of the highest point on the island, island group, or island state in metres
Highest Elevation (name): Full name of the highest point on the island, island group, or island state
Isolation Index: This island database is using the index values of an isolation index developed by Arthur Lyon Dahl, first published on the website Island Directory: „To measure the isolation of the island from potential sources of colonization, the square roots of the distances to the nearest equivalent or larger island, the nearest island group or archipelago and the nearest continent are added to give an index of isolation. Where one of these does not exist, the next higher distance is repeated, except in the case of small satellite islands close to much larger land masses.“ (Dahl, A. L. 1991: Island Directory: islands.unep.ch/isldir.htm. Accessed: 31.01.2014)
In the case of an island group the isolation index field states the isolation index value of its main island.
Climate Risk Index: The Climate Risk Index (CRI) developed by Germanwatch is an analysis based on one of the most reliable datasets available on the impacts of extreme weather events and associated socio-economic data (provided by Munich Re NatCatSERVICE). It includes four indicators: 1. Number of deaths, 2. Number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, 3. Sum of losses in US$ in purchasing power parity (PPP), 4. Losses per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
„For the indicators 2-4, economic and population data primarily provided by the International Monetary Fund were taken into account. It must be added, however, that especially for small (e.g. Pacific Small Island Developing States) or politically extremely unstable countries (e.g. Somalia), the required data is not always available in sufficient quality for the whole observed time period. Those countries have to be left out of the analyses. The Climate Risk Index 2014 is based on the loss-figures from 2012 and 1993–2012. This ranking represents the most affected countries. Each country's index score has been derived from a country's average ranking in all four analyzes, according to the following weighting: death toll 1/6, deaths per 100,000 inhabitants 1/3, absolute losses in PPP 1/6, losses per GDP unit 1/3.“ (Kreft, S. & Eckstein, D. 2013: Germanwatch Climate Risk Index 2014. Bonn: Germanwatch e.V. )
This island database is using the CRI ranks based on the 20-year-period (1993-2012). For political dependent islands the CRI field states the CRI rank of its mother country.
Mean Sea Level Trends (mm/year): States the linear relative mean sea level (MSL) trends for the island, island group, or island state in millimetres per year based on the analyses of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the USA.
Mean Sea Level (meta): If there is a MSL trend for the specific island, island group, or island state available, this field consists of three elements of metadata: The time span of the measurements in years, the completeness of the measurements in percent, and the unique ID of the measuring station.
Population (total): Human population of the island, island group, or island state (followed by a field which states the census year)
Population Density (p/km²): Population density in persons per square kilometre (followed by a field which states the census year)
Population Growth (annual %): Annual percentage population growth rate (followed by a field which states the census year)
GDP (per capita in current US$): Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in current US-Dollar (followed by a field which states the census)
Dominant Economic Sectors: States the dominant economic sectors of the island, island group, or island state
HDI: States the Human Development Index (HDI) of an island state or in the case of a politically dependent island or island group, that of its mother country
Administration: States the political status and the type of government of the island, island group, or island state
Miscellaneous: Additional information about the island, island group or island state which are not directly connected with another database field
Integrated Island Database (IIDAB), AG Ratter, Institute of Geography, University of Hamburg, 2013-2015