Report: Rising sea temps likely to bring more cyclones to Hawaii

Published: Sep. 5, 2016 at 10:47 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 6, 2016 at 4:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Global climate change could mean Hawaii is in for more frequent and more severe hurricanes in the future, a new comprehensive report presented at the International Union of Conservation of Nature's World Conservation Congress in Honolulu on Monday finds.

"We're seeing that rising sea temperatures are leading to more intense and more frequent hurricanes and typhoons," said Inger Andersen, IUCN director general. "We are going to likely see an increase in ocean global warming between one to four degrees by 2100. And in an ecological time scale, 2100 is tomorrow."

The news comes as Hawaii is in the midst of a busy hurricane season, and scientists say the findings are a wake-up call for the islands.

On average, Hawaii sees about three to four tropical cyclones a year. But in 2015, 15 formed in the Pacific, a new record.

Experts predict it will only get worse. The report found there's been an increase in the number of severe hurricanes (Categories 3 to 5) at a rate of 25 to 30 percent per degree Celsius of global warming.

"Climate models are predicting more El Niños in the future and they will be stronger," said Dr. Chip Fletcher, University of Hawaii Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology associate dean. "Storms have been observed around the world as being more powerful, their wind speeds are increasing, the amount of rain fall associated with them is increasing and the storms themselves are larger."

None of the storms last year made a direct hit on the Hawaiian Islands, but Fletcher said it's just a matter of time.

So far this hurricane season, Tropical Storm Darby hit the Big Island, but didn't cause major damage. (It did bring major flooding to Oahu, however.)

Darby was just the fifth named storm since 1949 to make landfall on a Hawaiian island, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center has said, and it followed a track similar to Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014.

"We've just been lucky. Hawaii is actually a very small target in a very large ocean," Fletcher said. "And the fact that these storms have not run aground on our islands, is pure luck. It's not a matter of if we're gonna be hit by a land falling tropical cyclone or hurricane, it's a matter of when."

In addition to more cyclones, experts say the rising temperatures mean it will be difficult for species to exist.

"In essence, were disrupting ... the rhythm of life in the ocean," said Dr. Dan Laffoley, marine vice chairman of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and an editor of the report. "We're no longer the casual observers in the room. What we have done is unwittingly put ourselves in the test tubes where the experiment has been undertaken."

The report, which also considers the significant impacts of climate change on marine life and human populations, makes a host of recommendations. They include:

  • The world must recognize the several of the impacts of climate change on marine and coastal organisms, ecosystems and weather, and that "high to very high risks of impact are expected by 2100, even under the low emissions scenario."
  • The global problem needs a global solution -- and global cooperation. "Action must be taken," the report says, "in light of these findings."
  • There needs to be updated risk assessments and economic impact studies based on the most recent findings.
  • Gaps in protection policies and management need to be addressed quickly.
  • Scientists must more rapidly assess the science of global climate change and its evolving impacts.
  • Rapid and substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are needed to formulate a long-term solution to global climate change.

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