The same July 2017 weekend large surf from Tropical Cyclone Fernanda swept across east shores, Hawai‘i also saw, for the third time in just a few months, another round of record-level high tides. These “king tides” over the summer sent water washing over seawalls, coming dangerously close to homes and making some roads virtually impassable.
“We found water bubbling up through a manhole cover in Ala Moana parking lot, we see Mapunapuna flooded by water, we found salt water coming out of storm drains and flooding gutters in Waikiki and portions of Kaka‘ako,” said Chip Fletcher, professor of Geology and Geophysics and SOEST’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
All of these events pose a potentially unprecedented threat — one state officials are scrambling to prepare for — to just about every aspect of life in the islands, from critical infrastructure to the state’s cultural resources to native flora and fauna to Hawai‘i’s no. 1 industry: tourism.
“We would expect more impactful events, so if our projections are right, this is definitely very bad news for Hawai‘i,” said Kevin Hamilton, UH atmospheric science researcher and former director of the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC).
Excessive heating of the ocean also contributed to a mass global coral bleaching event from 2014 through 2017, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deemed as the longest coral bleaching event to date, damaging two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.
Three factors contribute to sea level rise, according to Bradley Romine, a coastal management specialist with the UH Sea Grant College Program. About one-third comes from thermal expansion — the ocean takes up more room as it heats up, one-third comes from the melting of the glaciers and ice caps, and another third comes from the melting of the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.