More coastal inundations one year, with barren exposed reefs the next. That’s what could happen to islands in parts of the Pacific according to the research done by a pair of UH Manoa scientists.
It’s not a far stretch, because it’s already happening.
"We learned from folks in Samoa is they've experienced in the past extreme drops in sea level. They actually have a name for it, taimasa," said Matthew Widlansky, Postdoctoral Fellow at UH Manoa.
A photo of a coastal area in Samoa shows a stretch of ocean bottom completely exposed during an extreme low tide. Conditions like this can kill coral, chase away fish, and upset the balance of the ecosystem.
It’s all due to El Nino.
"The trade winds have been weaker than normal this year, and water that's usually piled up in the west near Guam for example, has sloshed back to the east," said Widlansky.
As climate change results in more frequent and powerful El Nino conditions, Widlansky believes the effects will become more dramatic. In years where the ocean surface is cooler than normal--the effects could be even worse.
"High sea levels with La Nina events, the opposite of El Nino, could very well set the stage for severe coastal inundations," he said.
With Hawaii located in the Central Pacific, there is less of a threat for these extreme low and high tide conditions, given the sloshing action of the ocean is more severe on the edges, but there are threats to our ways of life.
"In Hawaii we're likely to experience the more gradual sea level rise with climate change."