Hawai'i Island: Voices From Community-Based Climate Adaptation

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A research team comprising staff from the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC), the University of Hawai'i and the County of Hawai'i Planning Department recently set out to quantify historic and contemporary rates of change along different types of shorelines on Hawai'i Island, using those data to model observed changes into the future through sea level rise impacts.

PI-CASC is a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey and a three-member university consortium: the University of Hawai'i at Manoa (the consortium lead), the University of Guam, and UH Hilo. PI-CASC develops research products (information, tools, and techniques) that strengthen the capacities of natural and cultural resource managers across the Pacific to anticipate and adapt to climate change impacts.

On Hawai'i Island, a "setback policy" requires developers to place buildings at least 40 feet from the established shoreline across the entire island. This largely arbitrary line did not account for different uses of the land, nor the constantly shifting environments distinct to the island's different shoreline types. Ultimately, it left some communities exposed to coastal hazards.

The research team combined existing datasets (historic aerial photos) with new data (drone imagery, topographic surveys, etc.) to quantify past and present rates of coastal change. These data were then merged with sea level rise projections and other geospatial data to estimate future impacts along the coastline using a GIS platform.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:02:59

Location Taken: HI, US

Video Credits

Ricky Tabandera

Items used with permission: Seaside Landscape Duraing Natural Disaster Hurricane (DogoraSun); The Coastline of Pahoa Hawaii in the Morning (CloudVisual); Waves crashing into shore on Hawaii (2 items, forrestbro); Minimal Epic Tune (LoopsLab)


Hawai’I Island: Voices From the Front Lines of Community-Based Climate Adaptation

Bethany Morrison: Squeezed between our steep volcanic slopes and the rising sea, Hawaii Island’s coastal communities are very vulnerable to natural hazards, including earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, coastal erosion, landslides, and high-storm events

These natural hazards make Hawaii County one of the most vulnerable counties in the United States.

And in some cases, residents have lost their homes due to impacts from sea-level rise and climate change, and in other cases they’re having to redevelop and redesign their properties to accommodate for the hazard.

Aloha Kapono: Hawaii Island is extremely different from all the various other islands, or mokus, that we have here in Hawaii.

We have these sheer, very tall sea cliffs, and we have different geomorphic regimes, and so what we’re trying to do is better understand these changes along these coastlines so that we can provide up-to-date data and information to policy- and decision-makers like the County of Hawaii.

Bethany Morrison: We’ve formed a relationship with the County of Hawaii, University of Hawaii at Hilo, and the Manager Climate Corps of the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center, to obtain quantifiable data about our shoreline dynamics and changes in order to adapt our shoreline setback policy which will make our coastal communities much more resilient to climate change impacts.

Ryan Perroy: We’ve been able to document change rates in the Hamakua coast area that are fairly striking: some of the maximum change rates we’ve seen are about 10 meters of shoreline retreat, of coastal cliff retreat, over about a 50-year period.

And now, what we’re doing is trying to expand this project across the entirety of Hawaii Island, which is quite a large area: all the other Hawaiian islands can fit inside our island.

So the coastline is very very long. And so to get at that, we’re using manned aviation, we’re using helicopters and a custom imaging system that we’re using to basically capture imagery across the entirety of the coast, and use that to generate three-dimensional models and a good, accurate, contemporary baseline for the shoreline.

And so I think that the scientific approach, and being able to quantify the amount of shoreline change which has gone on in the past, and also project the types of shoreline-change rates and erosion rates we’re going to see in the future, is very helpful to inform the regulatory framework which surrounds how we’re using infrastructure and planning projects in the future.