At the southern tip of the Maldives, on the tiny island of Villingili, a patch of ground rises to tower a whole 2.4m above the sea. It’s the world’s lowest high point.

With most islands just a metre or so above the sea level, it is often suggested that the world’s lowest country may drown beneath rising sea levels by the end of the century. For tourists, this ranks the Maldives atop bucket lists of destinations to visit before they disappear. For the 400,000 people who live on the islands, things are rather more serious: rising sea levels could render them climate change refugees.

However, such scenarios of inundation and drowning assume that the land surface remains static and unchanged. But, what if the land could build vertically as sea level rises?

This is what colleagues and I have been examining in our research, now published in Geophysical Research Letters. We studied five reef islands in the southern Maldives and found that they were actually built when sea levels were higher than they are today. Read more.