UH Hilo marine scientists host colleagues from Alaska, share common ground on climate adaptation

A group of scientists from Hawai‘i and Alaska are sharing cross-regional research and cultural knowledge with each other in support of climate adaptation.

Three photos of researchers visiting sites: rough terrain, waterfall, and beach.
Field trips led by UH Hilo marine scientists and local experts over a span of three days in November gave visiting scientists from Alaska ridge-to-reef experience—watershed systems, stream habitats, and shoreline resources—all while providing the entire group of colleagues opportunities to exchange methodologies and parallels in their research. (Courtesy photos/PI-CASC)

By Susan Enright.

Marine scientists at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo hosted a delegation of colleagues from Alaska in November as part of an ongoing collaborative project focused on climate adaptation.

The scientists are sharing cross-regional research and cultural knowledge with each other in support of climate adaptation. The work is being done through Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) located in Hilo and Juneau: the Pacific Island CASC and the Alaska CASC. A group from Hilo visited Alaska last summer.

The nine regional U.S. Geological Survey CASCs—found on the continent, Alaska, and Hawai‘i—are focusing on regional challenges through collaborative programs that team scientists with natural and cultural resource managers and local communities to help fish, wildlife, water, land, and people adapt to a changing climate.

Tracy Wiegner
Tracy Wiegner

Steve Colbert“This was truly an opportunity to collaborate better and bring different life skills together,” says UH Hilo Associate Professor of Marine Science Steven Colbert about November’s site visit to Hawai‘i Island.

“Part of this visit was sharing project methods for collecting samples and processing data, and having that opportunity to actually see the systems in person is an experience you just can’t replicate over email or video call,” Colbert explains.

“While seeing the watershed, we were starting to think about future projects as we started talking about what systems among our region are impacted by climate change,” he says. “We also assessed what background information is available and can be shared with each other.”

A group from Hawai‘i did the same type of visit in Alaska this past summer. Colbert, along with Professor of Marine Science Tracy Wiegner, Adjunct Associate Professor Tim Grabowski (a unit leader with the U.S. Geological Survey-Hawai‘i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in Hilo), and graduate student Walter Boger met with partners from the Alaska CASC to visit sites and discuss further collaborative work.

Group stands on river bank.
Last summer, a group of scientists from UH Hilo and UH Mānoa, who are working on climate adaptation, traveled to Juneau to meet with partners in Alaska to discuss collaborative work. From left, Danielle Bartz (HI), Lindsay Call (AK), Walter Boger (HI), Jeff Falke (AK), Jason Fellman (AK), Bob Bolton (AK), Steve Colbert (HI), Ryan Bellmore (AK), Tim Grabowski (HI, at back), Tracy Wiegner (HI), Yu-Fen Huang (HI), and Yin-Phan Tsang (HI). (Courtesy photo/PI-CASC)

Hawai‘i visit

During November’s site visit in Hawai‘i, researchers from Alaska observed how their Hawaiian counterpart systems are similar and different regarding their structure, function, and current and future impacts of climate and land-use change. Field trips led by local experts over a span of three days gave participants a ridge-to-reef experience—watershed systems, stream habitats, and shoreline resources—all while providing opportunities to exchange methodologies and parallels in their research.

The group visited the headwaters of the Wailuku River, the longest river in Hawai‘i and the largest in the state by mean discharge, where Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance Coordinator Cheyenne Hiapo Perry spoke about the surrounding ecology and Native Hawaiian history and connections to the region. They also toured along the Keaukaha shoreline to see groundwater-fed fishponds and anchialine pools (landlocked pools with an underground ocean connection) while discussing perspectives on food security between Hawai‘i and Alaska.

Honoli‘i stream was another highlight of the tour, led by Crispin Nakoa, a recent graduate of UH Hilo’s tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program, a Hawai‘i Sea Grant Graduate Fellow, and current Arizona State University doctoral student.

Collaborative science

The collaborative site visits between Hawai‘i and Alaska provide a fresh perspective on the similarities and differences of the two regions in terms of natural resources and research methods. Having attended the Juneau site visit over the summer, Colbert and Wiegner have a more well-rounded understanding of the collaborative projects.

Wiegner is studying hydrologic conditions in Hawai‘i and how land-use practices are changing stream discharge and nearshore marine health. She notes how the local community interactions with natural resources in Hawai‘i and Alaska are different but equal.

“The appreciation for the land and its resources in both spaces were very visible, and in different ways,” she says. “Local experts here deal heavily with invasive species, where in Alaska they don’t have that same threat level. Here, we’re working to restore native forests and bring more water into the system while in Alaska, they work within a protected forest and preserve food sources, especially in their river systems.”

She adds, “And yet, even with these differences, the local communities in both these regions are equally engaged in preserving natural resources.”

Read full story at the PI-CASC website.

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Story 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.

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