Press "Enter" to skip to content

Big Island climate change project highlighted at COP26

A project by Big Island students, professors and county workers to model the effects of climate change on the island was showcased at a global climate conference earlier this week.

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP26, began Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland. Throughout the conference, delegates, panelists and elected officials gathered to discuss the challenges and necessities of combating climate change around the globe.

During one panel on Nov. 8 — titled “Communities on the front line and local leaders that support them” — a presenter highlighted a Big Island project as a model for a community-level response to climate challenges.

That project, with support from the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center — a collaboration between the U.S. Department of the Interior, the University of Hawaii at Hilo, UH-Manoa and the University of Guam — hopes to map the coastline of the Big Island in order to create a baseline against which future sea level rise and coastal erosion can be measured, said UH-Hilo geography professor Ryan Perroy, principal investigator for the project.

“It’s not just about the data collection, but it will help us to do inundation exposure modeling,” Perroy said, explaining that, through aerial photography, his team — including UH-Hilo students and Hawaii County Planner Bethany Morrison — were able to create 3D models of coastal areas to determine which areas will be affected the most by rising sea levels.

So far, since the project began this year, Perroy said the team only has been able to survey two stretches of Big Island coastline: a 16-kilometer stretch along the Hamakua coast from Hilo to Kapue, and a 12-kilometer stretch on the west side of the island from the Old Kona Airport to Kualanui Point. However, he said he hopes to eventually be able to map all 428 kilometers of the island’s coastline.

Perroy said the project already has revealed some striking results. Some Hamakua cliffs, he said, have retreated by about 10 feet over about 50 years, which has put some properties along the coast at risk of being dangerously undercut.

The survey model has potential applications for other oceanside communities, Perroy said, and already has been adapted for a similar project in the Marshall Islands.

Hopefully, Perroy said, the appearance of the project at COP26 bodes well for future funding for the project.

The project was built upon a previous effort by the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center, which also was led by UH-Hilo students and took surveys of three areas of the island: Kapoho, Honolii and Hapuna Beach.

Scott Laursen, program specialist with the PI-CASC, said that project generated attention from the National Climate Adaptation Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey, which ultimately led that program’s chief, Doug Beard, to include it in his presentation at COP26.

Although none of the people involved with the project directly made appearances at COP26, Laursen developed a three-minute video for the conference summarizing the scope and importance of the project. That video can be viewed at

Email Michael Brestovansky at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: