heading our way: climate change in Hawaii

climate change in hawaii

The science confab last Wednesday yielded several new clues to Hawaii’s future in a field of study that is advancing rapidly.

Climate modeling is providing more fine-grained understanding of relationships between air, ocean and land systems, as well as deeper appreciation of Hawaii's climate system complexities.

Precision is clouded (heh) by different effects over land than over the ocean, and Hawaii is a little of the former in a lot of the latter.

Here's a quick summary of highlights from the day's presentations, after host Stephen Miller outlined an innovative 3-day learning process that includes a strategy session with stakeholder groups.

Wot a concept! As long as all this talent is gathered, says Miller, we might as well roll up the sleeves and do some work as well as sitting through prepared presentations.

Jeff Burgett of the US Fish and Wildlife Service opened the day with an overview of global Climate Change and ecological responses that was fairly pointed. If temperatures rise as expected, the tropical climate will change dramatically.

Using global climate models, Burgett shows that a much hotter Tropics will lose from 15% to 40% of its ecosystems.

Henry Diaz from NOAA's Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder focused on Hawai‘i climatic variability in the context of projected climate change. Diaz noted that Hawaii is right on the edge of a Pacific region that could get wetter or drier, depending on land effects.

The most likely scenario, according to Diaz, is both a continuing decline in rainfall over the islands and a further increase in extreme rain events, which could provide 50% to 70% of total annual rain in a few days. Diaz also noted that temperatures are likely to increase much faster at higher elevations in Hawaii's mountains.

Kevin Hamilton of UH's SOEST focused on late 21st century climate change in Hawai‘i as simulated with a fine resolution global model. This is way kewl stuff, since it requires piggy-backing an island submodel on a massive supercomputer running the global model in Japan.

Hamilton showed results from both a wetter and a drier scenario for the Pacific which tended to support a downtrend in island rain, falling by 18% through 2100. Hamilton's model run also suggests that extreme rain events will be 20% more likely by century's end.

Oh, and, more great stuff keeps coming from the research work of Chip Fletcher, who focused on the potential impacts of sea level rise (SLR) in Hawai‘i. Fletcher showed a simulation of Kailua beach with a 1 meter SLR showing that the inland

incursion could be as much as 60 meters. (I liked it better when SLR was a kind of camera...heh!) That's right, for every 3 feet of SLR, we might expect up to 180 feet of shoreline loss.

Fletcher is now calling for a "strategic retreat" from the shoreline for vital community centers and facilities, not including resorts. Shoreline hotels, Fletcher noted, are already walling out the sea, ignoring the fact that the beach is disappearing, and bringing beach sand into the resort pool.

At day's end, we got to hear Conservation International's Lee Hannah report on the extinction risk from climate change and its implications for Hawai‘i. Ecosystems are gonna move, reports Hannah, and we need to start mapping where they're gonna move to.

Hannah's work supports the concept of 'translocation' as a method to save certain species, and he notes that the principal risk under warmer conditions will be various disease vectors.

Says Hannah, "climate change is the trigger, yet disease is the bullet."

Hannah also cited research by Dennis Lapointe etal. that anticipates Kauai's Alaka`i swamp losing nearly 85% of its remaining native bird habitat if temperatures rise by 2 degrees.

Overall, I'd have to say this was an exhilirating/exruciating day, with enough phenomenal advances in science and distressing prospects for our climate to keep us all bent out of shape for a long time.

Recall Miller's conclusion from his presentation last Summer:

"Climate change is likely to significantly alter the landscape structure of Hawaiian ecosystems. These alterations will be driven by an increase in severe weather and a reduction in rainfall, both of which will become regular features of Hawaii's climate."

So, wot kind of conservation programs can effectively address these impacts? Says Miller, we're gonna need stuff like 'transition ecology' where we learn how to transition, say, a wet forest to a mesic forest, as well as major long-term captive propagation and seed storage. Yikes!

Meanwhile, I got a sense that some of these scientists are increasingly freaked by the accelerating rate of climate change. Didn't help that we were meeting amid news of another major chunk of West Antarctic ice breaking off...

Published by Ken on March 30th, 2008 tagged Climate Change, Ecosystems Research, HI-specific

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