Climate Science: Hawaiian Context
Climate vs. Weather
Climate science studies the physical components of the atmosphere and their interactions over long periods of time (decades to thousands of years), as well as the mechanisms through which atmospheric processes shift over such time intervals. Whereas climate science helps us understand what we can generally expect as far as rain, wind, clouds, or temperature in a specific region over long time periods, weather is the immediate status of these variables in a specific location or their status over a very short period of time, such as the current temperature or the temperature over a few days or weeks.
Clear Evidence of Change
“The climate has changed many times in the geologic past due to natural causes — including volcanic activity, changes in the sun’s intensity, fluctuations in Earth's orbit, and other factors — but none of these can account for the current rise in global temperatures”
(Union of Concerned Scientists web page on global warming, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming, accessed January 10, 2017).
“The Scientific evidence is clear. Within the scientific community, there is no debate. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that human activity is the primary cause”
(Union of Concerned Scientists web page on global warming, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming, accessed January 10, 2017).
What is at Stake in the Pacific?
"Island communities in the Pacific and the Caribbean are isolated, trade-dependent, and ocean-oriented cultures that are especially vulnerable to climate change. Marine and coastal ecosystems of the islands are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Sea-level rise, increasing water temperatures, rising storm intensity, coastal inundation and flooding from extreme events, beach erosion, ocean acidification, increased incidences of coral disease, and increased invasions by non-native species are among the threats that endanger the ecosystems that provide safety, sustenance, economic viability, and cultural and traditional values to island communities"
(Fletcher 2013: 214-215).
The Socio-Ecological Setting of Hawaiʻi Island
Hawaiʻi is a remote rural island encompassing 4,024 square miles in the Central Pacific and rising from sea level to nearly 14,000 ft in elevation with five volcanic mountains (see Fig.1 from the Manager Needs Assessment section). The heterogeneous terrain is characterized by spatially unique climate variability that drives an equally rare diversity of ecosystems and biota within close proximity and thereby a distinct array of climate change impacts. Trade winds and resulting orographic rainfall and cloud formation interact with a temperature inversion layer and island topography to form an island resembling a miniature continent (Juvik and Juvik 1998).
Communities on the island are highly localized, experience a wide range of ecosystems and climate regimes, and are characterized by extensive histories of indigenous Hawaiian and immigrant cultures (McMillen et al. 2017). These highly complex geopolitical landscapes and seascapes result in a diversity of landowners and political arenas interacting in close proximity on the island, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), federal, state, county, and private organizations. This socio-ecological assemblage makes the island a representative site for other locations globally that are working to be resilient and adaptive under a changing climate.
Climate Science in Hawaiʻi
Climate change threats to resource managers on the Hawaiian Islands involve a wide range of impacts across the island’s landscapes and seascapes. Some of these impacts include
- sea level rise (Reynolds et al. 2015)
- potential increase in storm intensity (Chen and Chu 2014; IPCC 2014) with decreasing and variable annual rainfall (Chu and Chen 2005) threatening human infrastructure and communities (IPCC 2014)
Examples of further impacts on human communities include:
- inundating storm and waste water systems (Rotzoll and Fletcher 2012)
- increasing invasive species (Jacobi and Berkowitz, personal communications)
- increasing coastal erosion (Vitousek et al. 2010; Fletcher et al. 2012; Anderson et al. 2015) threatening traditional Hawaiian cultural sites and cultural practices along the coast (Vitousek et al. 2010; Marrack and O’Grady 2014)
- increasing erosion (Vitousek et al. 2010; Fletcher et al. 2012; Anderson et al. 2015) causing potential human health risks through shifts in near-shore water chemistry and bacteria levels (Strauch et al. 2014)
Climate change will also impact ecological systems through:
- increasing reef acidification (Anthony et al. 2008)
- shifting groundwater flows (Rotzoll and Fletcher 2012) altering nutrient flux into coastal and nearshore systems
- increasing wildfire size and occurrence (Trauernicht et al. 2015; Frazier and Giambelluca 2016)
- altering forest community composition through invasive species colonization (Vorsino et al. 2014; Camp et al. in press)
- altering the distribution and abundance of native forest bird populations due to a rising mosquito-avian disease line (Atkinson et al. 2014; Liao et al. 2015; Paxton et al. 2016)
Our Approach: Adaptation through Local Networks and Collaborative Science
The Psychology of Shifting Human Behavior
Research in psychology and cognitive science has made clear that humans do not make decisions according to predominantly or exclusively rational, analytical capacities. Rather, human behavior is more profoundly based upon intrinsic affective (emotional) capacities that are driven by experience, group norms and values, individual values, perceptions, instincts, intuitions, and related visceral factors that collectively define one's identity or worldview (Ingold 2011; Jones et al. 2011; Kahan et al. 2012; van der Linden et al. 2015; Jones et al. 2016, Amel et al. 2017, Laursen et al. in review). For this reason, our program is designed to build upon existing in-person professional networks locally through the process of knowledge coproduction. We feel that directly and regularly supporting person-to-person and person-to-nature relationships within local networks harnesses multiple knowledge forms and utilizes a wide range of capacities that collectively exert strong influence human behavior. If we want to build adaptive capacity through major socio-ecological shifts and establish increasingly sustainable lifestyles, it is imperitive that we account for and directly engage the full breadth of analytical and intrinstic capacities that drive human behavior.
In-Person Collaboration and Research Products that Affect Human Behavior and Build Adaptive Capacity
The MCC empowers cultural adaptation amid contemporary climate change impacts by building upon local, in-person relationships and embedding research efforts within manager networks (see our Manager Context section). By utilizing knowledge coproduction within our growing professional networks, the MCC supports research products that are both meaningful and utilized by managers and policy professionals on Hawaiʻi Island as well as the communities of natural resource users that managers are accountable to on a daily basis (see our Focus section). MCC products and networks have realized impact because managers drive the research process and have vested interest in the products that result.
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Vorsino AE, Fortini LB, Amidon FA, Miller SE, Jacobi JD, Price JP, Koob GA (2014) Modeling Hawaiian ecosystem degradation due to invasive plants under current and future climates. PloS one 9(5):e95427.
The MCC partners with the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Graduate Program at UH Hilo and is a part of the larger tri-university consortium of the Pacific Islands Climate Science Center (PI-CSC).