‘The future in our hands’: Scientists call for urgent action to curb sea level rise in Hawaii

Hawaii could see anywhere between six and eight inches of sea level rise in the next three decades.
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 10:02 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2022 at 10:39 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - America’s coasts will be dealing with about a foot of sea level rise on average by the year 2050, a new federal study shows.

The biggest impacts are forecast for the East Coast, where sea level rise estimates are between 14 and 18 inches. Hawaii, meanwhile, is projected to see between 6 and 8 inches in three decades.

NOAA, which is one of seven agencies responsible for the report, says that much sea level rise will cause tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland.

By the year 2050, “moderate” flooding ― the kind that causes damage ― is expected to occur on average more than 10 times as often as it does today.

“The impacts will will depend upon what we do to mitigate against those,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer. “With less heating under less emissions, the risk of higher sea level rise of mountains is much less. The future is in our hands, and that future does not need to be one of doom and gloom.”

But the data also indicates that if we fail to curb our future carbon emissions, things will only get worse. By the year 2100, we could be dealing with an additional 1 1/2 to 5 feet of sea level rise.

Phillip Thompson, the director of University of Hawaii’s sea level center, says the study doesn’t even factor in the powerful swells that we deal with in the Central Pacific.

“These are not small changes. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you go to like a handful of impacts per year to 50 or 60 per year, that really starts to add up,” Thompson said.

“Thirty years is not all that long. We’re talking about a 2050 horizon. And when we think about how, how long it takes to build up interest in the Legislature and the momentum it takes to get these big infrastructure projects done, I mean, it really is time now to start to start making those plans.”

Some of the hardest hit areas will be the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, places like Papahanaumokuakea and the many atolls that provide habitat for sea birds, monk seals and other marine life.

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