Hawaii and US Affiliated Pacific Islands 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and we’ve got your 2050 climate forecast for Hawaii and the US Affiliated Pacific Islands.  The people of this region know things look serious, and you all are getting ready.  There is huge energy, grassroots energy, policy-level energy, and tremendous mobilization to adapt to climate change in the islands.  Lots of knowledge and resource sharing is happening.  So for many of you in the islands, and there are 1.9 million people in this region, this forecast may well be news you already know.  But the rest of us, we all need to understand what you are facing, and why it is so important that we not only build resiliency on the mainland, but that we also work to cut emissions.  Because the forecast we’re all looking at is pretty fixed for 2050, but it changes a lot for 2100 based on what we do in the next ten years.  The islands need us all to work together for their protection in 2100.

Let’s talk about sea level rise in this context.  With future technology we’ll be able to scrub carbon from the air, maybe.  That could be an important part of future mitigation strategies.  But nobody can put sea level rise back in the bag.  We can’t refreeze Greenland’s glaciers.  Not on a timescale that’s going to work for us, at least.  So if we reduce emissions, the sea level rise, it’ll slow down around 2050.  And sea level rise is going to get a little crazy, it’s going to accelerate in the next ten years.  We will want it to slow down!  If we don’t reduce emissions, that acceleration will continue.  If we don’t reduce emissions, there is so much more beauty that will be lost, that will be under the waves, by 2100.

Here’s what we’re looking at with sea level rise in the US Affiliated Pacific Islands.  There’s a probability of a foot to a foot and a half increase by 2050, which is going to have a major impact on many of today’s beaches.  After 2050, sea level rise is projected to increase further, with 4 feet not out of the range of probability by the end of the century. 

With the sea rising, there’s also the issue of saltwater getting into the groundwater.  Freshwater resources are always a challenge on islands, and these challenges will intensify this century.  Not only due to potential saltwater contamination, but NOAA is expecting decreases in rainfall to the region.  And as the islands are projected to get even less rain, they should also expect less surface water in streams. 

While overall rainfall is likely to decrease, there are other changes to the weather that are worth noting.  Tropical cyclone patterns are likely to shift north, which will probably bring more cyclones into the region.  There is also an expected doubling in frequency of La Nina and El Nino events.  These events that have characteristic weather changes will be occurring more often, and the individual events are likely to be more extreme.  This picture comes together to suggest that freshwater resources will really need to be prioritized, and that many ecosystems on the islands will change as they become gradually drier.   

In the ocean, we are also looking at changes to the ecosystem.  I am very sad to report that NOAA has projections for the onset of annual coral bleaching in this region.  The Commonweath of the Northern Mariana Islands is likely to see annual coral bleaching events begin around 2035.   In Guam, annual coral bleaching events may start in some areas by 2036 and become widespread by 2038.  In American Samoa, NOAA is projecting widespread annual coral bleaching events around 2040.  For the Hawaiian Islands, annual bleaching events will begin in the mid 2030s around the bigger islands.  They will be widespread by 2040. 

These bleaching events will have ecosystem-wide impacts.  By 2050, there’s an anticipated 15% decline in the fisheries.  And that decline could go to 50% by 2100 if we don’t check emissions now.  There are other things that can be done, there are heroic efforts underway to save the corals through farming, through selective breeding to increase heat tolerance, but there’s a bottom line here.  We need to stop heating up the ocean if we want to preserve these ecosystems.

So wrapping this all up, we’re looking at a very serious situation.  But the people of this region, they are organized, they are responding, they are adapting to the changes that are coming.  But these communities are disproportionally vulnerable to the choices that the rest of us make.  If we don’t reduce emissions now, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will cause our fellow Americans tremendous suffering.  Tremendous loss, and to all of us.  These are beautiful places, with species that exist and that can exist nowhere else.  We impoverish ourselves, we impoverish our world, when we lose these things.

The people of this region, they’ve got what it takes to handle local resiliency issues.  But the choices we all make are important.  Those of us on the mainland, we need to work together to cut emissions.  The people of Hawaii and the US Affiliated Pacific Islands are working hard to save their homelands, but they can’t do it alone.  We all need to work together, or the seas will continue to rise.

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.