Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Airports at risk as effects of climate change draw closer

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

With the issue of climate change taking sharp focus on the global stage, at least one local expert is sounding an ominous warning that Jamaica's airports and others in the Caribbean could be at risk due to rising sea levels.

Addressing a public lecture on the blue economy last week at the Regional Headquarters of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St Andrew, Dr David Smith, coordinator at the Institute for Sustainable Development at the UWI, said that climate change was not just eroding the beaches, but, the sea was also expanding.

The overwhelming majority of international travellers to Caribbean islands arrive via air, and airports require large tracts of relatively flat land, which tend be in short supply on many Caribbean islands.




And so many Caribbean airports tend to be located close to coastal areas, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels.

"Half of the airport runways in the Caribbean are below 33 metres, and many of them are quite a lot below 33 metres. So as the ocean begins to rise, more and more, our airport runways become more and more in jeopardy.

Worryingly, the lowest airport runway in the Caribbean is at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, which sits only four metres above sea level.

It is also the busiest airport in the country and the English-speaking Caribbean.

Others have warned that the threat is not only that the sea-level rise will gradually breach the defences surrounding each airport, but that sea-level rise will be more of an enabler of storm-surge flooding, making it easier for even minor storms to produce more damaging surges and flooding.