Climate Science: Hawaiian Context

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Waiuli Sunset
Photo: Sunset at Waiʻuli. Mauka to makai (mountain summit to the sea) Hawaiʻi Island is characterized by diverse climate variability that drives an equally rare diversity of ecosystems and biota within close proximity. It is, therefore, host to many complex shifts resulting from contemporary climate change. Yet for centuries, it has been a forum of human adaptation through socio-ecological change, particularly through traditional Hawaiian culture. Hawaiʻi Island is, therefore, a revealing place within which to improve our understanding of contemporary climate shifts while building upon long standing capacities of cultural adaptation to change. Photo credit: Scott Laursen, PI CSC

Climate Science

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.

Honuapo Loko Ia
Photo: Honuʻapo, Kaʻū. Loko iʻa (traditional Hawaiian fishponds) have been a foundation of cultural tradition and sustenance for centuries and remain the center of strong support from local communities and cultural practitioners. Loko iʻa managers can benefit from near-future forecasting of ecosystem shifts, such as changes in ground water flow, nutrient delivery, or salinity, that may result from climate change. Such research efforts directly inform adaptive management plans. Photo credit: Ryan McClymont, USGS

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)
Molokai Hoe 2015
Photo: The start of the 63rd annual Molokaʻi Hoe outrigger canoe race, October 2015; an event defined by collaboration. To do well in this 40+ mile, 6-hour outrigger canoe race between the islands of Molokaʻi and Oahu, above all paddling crews must paddle as one. This means that paddlers must have extensive experience on the open ocean together, instinctive awareness of one anothers' abilities, and moment to moment flexibility to the shifting and unforgiving physical conditions of the kai (ocean). The collaborative networks and in-person experience that define the Molokaʻi Hoe are also fundamental guiding principles of our MCC program. Photo credit: 808photo.me

Our Approach: Adaptation through Local Networks and Actionable Climate Science

The Psychology of Shifting Human Behavior

Research in psychology 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, values, perceptions, instincts, intuitions, and related intrinsic motivations 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, Laursen et al. in review). For this reason, our program is focused on building upon existing in-person professional networks locally through the process of knowledge coproduction. We feel that harnessing influential capacities of human behavior within person-to-person relationships is a useful method for creating actionable science toward community adaptation and resilience.

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 transdisciplinary networks, the MCC supports research products that are immediately useful to managers and policy implementers on Hawaiʻi Island as well as the communities of natural resource users that managers are accountable to on a daily basis (see our Mission and Goals section).

References

Anderson TR, Fletcher CH, Barbee MM, Frazer LN, Romine BM (2015) Doubling of coastal erosion under rising sea level by mid-century in Hawaiʻi. Natural Hazards 78(1):75-103

Anthony KR, Kline DI, Diaz-Pulido G, Dove S, Hoegh-Guldberg O (2008) Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105(45):17442-17446

Atkinson CT, Utzurrum RB, Lapointe DA, Camp RJ, Crampton LH, Foster JT, Giambelluca TW (2014) Changing climate and the altitudinal range of avian malaria in the Hawaiian Islands–an ongoing conservation crisis on the island of Kauaʻi. Global Change Biology 20(8):2426-2436.

Camp RJ, Berkowitz SP, Brinck KW, Jacobi JD, Price J, Fortini LB (In Press) Potential impacts of projected climate change on vegetation management strategies in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. USGS Scientific Investigations Report.

Chen YR, Chu P (2014) Trends in precipitation extremes and return levels in the Hawaiian Islands under a changing climate. International Journal of Climatology 34(15):3913-3925.

Chu P-S, Chen H (2005) Interannual and interdecadal rainfall variations in the Hawaiian Islands. Journal of Climate 18:4796–4813

Fletcher CH (2013) Climate change: what the science tells us. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Fletcher CH, Romine BM, Genz AS, Barbee MM, Dyer M, Anderson TR, Lim SC, Vitousek S, Bochicchio C, Richmond BM (2012) National assessment of shoreline change: Historical shoreline change in the Hawaiian Islands. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 1051:55.

Frazier AG, Giambelluca TW (2016) Spatial trend analysis of Hawaiian rainfall from 1920 to 2012. International Journal of Climatology. DOI: 10.1002/joc.4862

Ingold T (2011) The Perception of the Environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill, 2nd edn. Routledge, London.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) Climate Change 2014–Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: Regional Aspects. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, USA.

Jones N, Ross H, Lynam T, Perez P, Leitch A (2011) Mental models: an interdisciplinary synthesis of theory and methods. Ecology and Society 16:46. www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art46

Jones N, Shaw S, Ross H, Witt K, Pinner B (2016) The study of human values in understanding and managing social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 21(1):15. dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07977-210115

Juvik, S. and J. Juvik. (1998) Atlas of Hawaiʻi. University of Hawaiʻi Press, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Kahan DM, Peters E, Wittlin M, Slovic P, Ouellette LL, Braman D, Mandel G (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nat Climate Change 2:732-735

Laursen S, Puniwai N, Nash S, Canale L, Genz A, and Ziegler-Chong S (in review) Facilitating knowledge coproduction on Hawaiʻi Island: managers and scientists in the context of climate change. Environmental Management

Liao W, Timm OE, Zhang C, Atkinson CT, LaPointe DA, Samuel MD (2015) Will a warmer and wetter future cause extinction of native Hawaiian forest birds? Global Change Biology 21(12):4342-4352

Marrack L, O'Grady P (2014) Predicting impacts of sea level rise for cultural and natural resources in five national park units on the island of Hawaiʻi. Technical Report No. 188. Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawaiʻi, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, USA. 40 pp.

McMillen H, Ticktin T, Springer HK (2017) The future is behind us: traditional ecological knowledge and resilience over time on Hawai ‘i Island. Regional Environmental Change 17(2): 579-592. DOI 10.1007/s10113-016-1032-1

Paxton EH, Camp RJ, Gorresen PM, Crampton LH, Leonard DL, VanderWerf EA (2016) Collapsing avian community on a Hawaiian island. Science Advances 2(9):e1600029

Reynolds MH, Courtot KN, Berkowitz P, Storlazzi CD, Moore J, Flint E (2015) Will the effects of sea-level rise create ecological traps for pacific island seabirds? PloS one 10(9):e0136773.

Rotzoll K, Fletcher CH (2012) Assessment of groundwater inundation as a consequence of sea-level rise. Nature Climate Change 3(5):477-481

Strauch AM, Mackenzie RA, Bruland GL, Tingley R, Giardina CP (2014) Climate change and land use drivers of fecal bacteria in tropical Hawaiian rivers. Journal of Environmental Quality 43(4):1475-1483

Trauernicht C, Pickett E, Giardina CP, Litton CM, Cordell S, Beavers A (2015) The contemporary scale and context of wildfire in Hawai'i. Pacific Science 69(4):427-444

Union of Concerned Scientists Web Page (2017) http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming (accessed January 10, 2017)

van der Linden S, Maibach E, Leiserowitz A (2015) Improving public engagement with climate change: five "best practice" insights from psychological science. Perspect Psychol Sci 10:758-763. doi: 10.1177/1745691615598516

Vitousek S, Barbee M, Fletcher C, Genz A (2010) Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Big Island of Hawai’i: coastal hazard analysis. Geologic Resources Division Report. Denver, Colorado: National Park Service, USA 66p.

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.

Partner Agencies

Pacific Islands Climate Science Center UH Manoa University of Guam Department of the Interior
USGS

Contact MCC Staff:

  • Sharon Ziegler-Chong: Project Coordinator
  • Phone: (808) 933-0759
  • Email: ziegler@hawaii.edu


  • Scott Laursen: Technical Projects Specialist
  • Phone: (307) 699-0123
  • Email: slaursen@hawaii.edu

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).