Daily Archives: December 10, 2012

How will Hawaii fare as the climate changes ?

The Star-Advertiser reports this morning on a new report predicting impacts of climate change on Hawaii (“Climate-change scientists predict sea to rise 1 foot by 2050“).

The S-A story is based on an East-West Center press release dated December 4, which included links to the executive summary and the full report. By the way, I didn’t see the links in the S-A story.

This is dour stuff. If you visit here often, you’ve probably seen plenty of the long posts by “skeptical once again” running down various scenarios as trends converge over the next several decades.

Sea levels are rising as average temperatures rise. The number of trade wind days are falling (making those wind farms far less efficient). There will be less rain and more frequent drought in parts of the state. Rising sea leaves will raise the water table, causing more routine flooding in low lying areas of the city. Tides and storms will have greater impacts. Fuel costs will continue to rise. Imports will get more expensive. Travel is likely to get more expensive, putting mass tourism at some risk. The list goes on and on.

Every day we walk down the beach in the morning and worry about friends with oceanfront homes, some who have been there for decades, some who bought their homes relatively recently. How long before their homes are at risk?

Here’s one assessment that I found this morning:

But as I’ve noted (see “What year will coastal property values crash?“), coastal property values won’t wait to (permanently) fall until sea levels have actually risen 4 or 5 feet, as they almost certainly will by the end this century on our current CO2 emissions path:

Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”

Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100

No, coastal property values will crash when a large fraction of the financial community and of opinion-makers — along with a smaller but substantial fraction of the public — realize that it is too late for us to stop 4 to 5 feet of SLR. I tend to think the peak in U.S. coastal property values comes some time in the 2020s.

And when those coastal values crash, what will the impact be on other island real estate values? It probably won’t be good.

You may want to check the calendar and realize that’s not too far in the future.

And what about Kamehameha Highway, much of which runs along the ocean, as it does here in Kaaawa. It’s extremely vulnerable to damage if sea levels or storm intensity increase much at all. Will it have to move mauka? Where? Are plans in place to do this? I don’t know.

Doom and gloom aside, I did find one very upbeat discussion of the positives of Hawaii’s location. Here’s a long excerpt:

The BEST place to be located is upon the larger remote Islands within the deep oceans near the equator or even better situated near the tropic lines. Hawaii is a prime example as to why such remote islands will weather best for their human inhabitance. The surrounding ocean and its surface water temperatures will help tremendously in stabilizing the lower elevation atmospheric temperatures within comfortable levels. Consider Florida for example, with temperatures that often reach 100F+ while at a latitude further north than Hawaii. Where Hawaii experiences extremely stable year round temperatures in the 80’s near ocean elevations all the while being situated far closer to the equator where the atmosphere should theoretically be hotter than Florida. Florida is surrounded by vast shoal (shallow) waters and therein lays the dilemma.

These perfect conditions in Hawaii are due to several factors. Hawaii experiences more moderate and stable temperatures because it is fully surrounded by deep remote ocean waters and because it has a near stable exposure to the sun all year round. The deep waters mix with the warmer surface waters of the sun about the island effectively cooling the warmer waters and keeping the island cooler during the day in the sunshine. Whereas during the evening the warmed surface waters continue to heat the lower elevation atmosphere via evaporation keeping the air moderately warm during the evenings. Thus Hawaii has a near perfect natural thermal control system built into its environment that fits human needs to near perfection, whereas no such place can be found in a continental environment.

Hawaii has two fairly stable factors, a near stable solar exposure and a stable deep ocean temperature. The surface waters about the island are locked between two opposites in energy absorption and transmission and we’ve a greater mass (water) in fluid dynamics to consider. The averaged outcome is experienced and enjoyed by the lower elevation inhabitance of the island. Global warming will have less influence on the temperatures in Hawaii and far greater influence on continental land masses. Hurricanes/Typhoons may become more prevalent in Hawaii but none the less, because of its remote location, such storms will always be less likely an extreme threat comparatively to the extremes that will be manifest on and around the continental environments.

The most disturbing thing to me is that while our science community is deeply involved in relevant research, our policy makers are lagging in seriously addressing the need for immediate changes to meet the future threats. This is another area where Hawaii’s conservative political system is going to increase the future costs of climate change.

Are Hawaii’s policy makers as proactive as those in other part of the country? I think we’re lagging, but that’s only a general impression.

Better informed assessments would be appreciated.