UH Hilo climate scientists’ research conducted on Hawai‘i Island shared with global audience at COP26

The research of UH Hilo geography professor Ryan Perroy was showcased this week at the United Nations’ global Climate Change Conference, COP26. Professor Perroy and research team are generating a comprehensive inventory for Hawaiʻi Island’s 428 kilometers of coastline.

By Susan Enright

The research of a University of Hawai‘i at Hilo geography professor was featured yesterday on the global stage at the United Nations’ COP26, the 26th U.N. Climate Change conference being held in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, 2021.

Ryan Perroy pictured.
Ryan Perroy

The inspiring video was presented virtually at the conference to showcase the details of a project co-developed by UH Hilo geography professor Ryan Perroy and Hawaiʻi County Planner Bethany Morrison.

The research team also includes UH Hilo students Aloha Kapono, Erica Ta, and Hannah Hartmann. UH Hilo marine science professor Steven Colbert and Volcano Helicopters are also collaborating on the project. Geospatial research analysts Nai‘a Odachi and Eszter Collier, a 2019 graduate of the UH Hilo master’s program in tropical conservation biology and environmental science, are also part of the research team.

Together, the team is generating a comprehensive inventory for Hawaiʻi Island’s 428 kilometers of coastline, collecting high-resolution aerial imagery and ground surveys of its steep sea cliffs, rocky coastal lava fields and white, black and green sand beaches.

“These data and products will be a lasting resource for land managers, local government and the scientific community as we grapple with the challenges of building community resilience in a time of rising sea level,” says Perroy.

The video highlights Hawai‘i Island’s vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise. Showcased as a model approach to climate change adaptation challenges, the research is being conducted as a local, community-based solution, through a collaboration between UH Hilo and the County of Hawai‘i.

With support from the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI–CASC) hosted at UH Mānoa, the study builds upon a previous PI–CASC project by UH Hilo Manager Climate Corps master’s student, Rose Hart. Hart, an expert in using unmanned aerial systems to map shorelines, won an award in 2017 for her collaborative work with Perroy and Morrison to estimate coastal erosion rates for three stretches of Hawaiʻi Island coastline and compare them to projected sea-level rise rates.

Scott Larson
Scott Larson

Scott Laursen, co-developer of the Manager Climate Corps, says the driving force behind the ongoing research project is to deliver science-based coastal change estimates that will inform the County of Hawai‘i as they look to update coastal setback policies to be more place-based, substrate-specific, and adaptive through future climate change impacts.


The video on the UH Hilo research project was shared at the COP26 conference yesterday as part of a presentation by Doug Beard, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Climate Adaptation Science Centers, at a virtual event sponsored by the Resilience Hub.

The event, titled “Communities on the front line and local leaders that support them,” was live streamed in Glasgow, Scotland, at COP26. The presentations highlighted vulnerable U.S. communities that are impacted by climate change and featured a panel of community adaptation and resilience leaders discussing adaptation projects from across the country. Viewers can watch the entire session online, which features the Hawai‘i video and also a video from Alaska’s Climate Adaption Science Center.

“I was deeply moved by the wide-ranging voices across communities and across the nation,” says Laursen about the virtual event. “In each case, on-the-ground voices demonstrated strength through union and empathy, amid vulnerability and great challenges.”

At the time of this post, the Hawai‘i video had logged over 3,000 views. It also was shared today on Twitter by Sen. Maize Hirono.

Read media release at UH System News.

By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.