'Super moon' bad news for Tuvalu

02:16, May 04 2012
Tubvalu tide
CREEPING TIDE: A young girl sat on the exposed roots of a large tree and watched the sea-water bubbling from the ground around her.

A "super-moon" will be a novelty for New Zealanders on Sunday, but for the 12,000 people of Tuvalu it is a foreboding practice for a future where rising seas make their homeland uninhabitable.

On Monday and Tuesday super-moon king tides will leave much of the capital atoll of Funafuti virtually below sea-level.

On Sunday night the Moon will be 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than any other full moon this year, the US space agency NASA says.

Known as a "perigee moon", it occurs when the moon reaches its closest point to Earth.

The full moon will occur at 3.35pm on Sunday, New Zealand time, but will not be visible here until moonrise over New Zealand at 5.23pm.

With a clear sky, it guarantees Sunday night will be a bright one.

NASA says the super moon has a reputation for trouble, causing high tides, making dogs howl and keeping people awake.

The space agency says the best time to look at it is when the moon is near the horizon.

"For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects.

"This moon illusion will amplify a full moon that's extra-big to begin with. The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset should seem super indeed."

Super perigee moons are fairly common, with the moon becoming full within a few hours of its closest approach to Earth about once a year on average.

The last such event occurred on March 19 last year, producing a full moon that was almost 400km closer than this one.

Pacific tide charts show that the moon will produce two big 3.15 metre tides in Tuvalu - a real problem for a nation that at its highest point is only five metres above sea-level.

This time of year is king tide season for Tuvalu which sometimes, in an apocalyptic kind of way, results in waves crashing over the reef, but this year was insidious with sea-water seeping out of the ground.

No one was swept away but sea-water flooded the compost pits in which people have been growing their root crops for centuries.

For visitors to Tuvalu, already startled by how small and low lying it is, spring tides are decidedly uneasy times.

The moon will produce spring tides around New Zealand, with a 3.6 metre high tide at 7.51am on Monday in Auckland.

It could affect the morning commute in Auckland with the high tide flooding some lanes on the North Western Motorway.