Monday, December 10, 2012

A new Pacific climate resource: PacificRISA

There’s a new climate resource in the Islands, with both a new website and a new report on impacts of climate change. Its message: change is coming, but it’s really hard to tell just how much.

The goal of both the website and the report is to figure out what we know about climate change impacts on the Pacific, and what to do about it. 

But don’t look for firm predictions of climate change impacts. The new report, from the Pacific Island Regional Climate Assessment program at East-West Center, takes a measured approach.

Why? There is lots of Pacific data, but the study argues that some of it isn’t real useful in making long-term predictions. For one thing, “The high interannual and interdecadal variability of the climate in the Pacific Islands makes it difficult to discern long-term trends from short-term data.”

More on this later. Here is the bureaucratic description of the document.

Climate Change and Pacific Islands: Indicators and Impacts is a report developed by the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA) aimed at assessing the state of knowledge about climate change indicators, impacts, and adaptive capacity of the Hawaiian archipelago and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI). The PIRCA is a collaborative effort engaging federal, state, and local government agencies, non-government organizations, academia, businesses, and community groups to inform and prioritize their activities in the face of a changing climate.”

The website,, contains copies of the report and various other resources, including some nice graphics and interviews with folks about how climate change will affect their lives and businesses. 

The report, put together by Victoria W. Keener, John J. Marra, Melissa L. Finucane, Deanna Spooner and Margaret H. Smith, is one of a series that make up the National Climate Assessment (NCA) 2013 report. They represent Pacific RISA, NOAA and the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative.

A lot of the information isn’t new. With increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (see our related post), we can expect rising sea levels, warmer air temperatures especially at higher elevations, warmer oceans, more extreme rainfall events as well as more drought, and the results are that habitat for plants and animals will be changing.

Warmer weather will increase the elevations of mosquitoes, which carry forest bird disease like avian malaria. Thus, less Hawaiian forest bird habitat.

There are some telling points. We have long known that sea levels have been rising for the past century. The report notes that the rate of rise has doubled since 1990. It cites various studies saying sea levels could be six inches higher at the end of the century, or six feet higher.  The PacificRISA study doesn’t say which it thinks is more likely.

But is says whatever it is, it’ll be trouble.

“Increasing mean water levels and the possibility of more frequent extreme water-level events, and their manifestation as flooding and erosion, will threaten coastal structures and property, groundwater reservoirs, harbor operations, airports, waste water systems, sandy beaches, coral reef ecosystems, and other social and economic resources. Low islands are especially vulnerable over the near to mid-term (next 25 to 50 years), with impacts varying with location and depending on how natural sea-level variability combines with modest increases of mean levels.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2012

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