2018 NCA Resources for the Hawai'i and Pacific Islands Regions


Regional Chapter Editor:

Lee Frankel-Goldwater, PhD Candidate, University of Colorado, Boulder

Chapter Reviewers, 2018:

Ming Wei Koh, Hawaii Sustainable Education Initiative, kohmingwei@gmail.com

NCA Education Resources for the Hawai'i and Pacific Islands Region

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform people and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

It contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science through the Our Changing Climate section of the 2018 NCA report and 2017 supporting Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Engineering is addressed throughout, both from the standpoint of climate change impacts and solutions, however, the Mitigation and Adaptation sections contain the most relevant information. Finally, the Frequently Asked Questions section has useful information as it relates to an Introduction to Climate Change, Climate Science, Temperature and Climate Projections, Climate, Weather, and Extreme Events, Societal Effects, and Ecological Effects.

Chapter Background

"The U.S. Pacific Islands are culturally and environmentally diverse, treasured by the 1.9 million people who call them home. The region comprises a vast ocean territory and more than 2,000 islands that vary in elevation, from high volcanic islands such as Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island (13,796 feet) to much lower islands and atolls such as Majuro Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (the highest point on Majuro is estimated at 9 feet). Its environments span the deepest point in the ocean (Mariana Trench National Monument) to the alpine summits of Hawaiʻi Island. The region supports globally important marine and terrestrial biodiversity, as well as stunning cultural diversity (over 20 Indigenous languages are spoken).

The U.S. Pacific Islands region is defined by its many contrasting qualities. While the area is a highly desirable tourist destination, with Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI) drawing more than 10 million tourists in 2015, living in the islands carries climate-related risks, such as those from tropical cyclones, coastal flooding and erosion, and limited freshwater supplies. Because of the remote location and relative isolation of the islands, energy and food supplies are shipped in at high costs." (Complete background and related figures available at NCA, 2018, Hawai'i and Pacific Islands Chapter)

Using this Guide:

The NCA Education Resources for the Hawai'i and Pacific Islands Region features 1) guiding questions, 2) key figures, 3) related chapters from the report, 4) lesson plans, 5) videos for all of the NCA key messages for the region, and 6) related U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit Case Studies.

Teachers can have students explore the toolkit case studies to see how people are building resilience for their businesses and in their communities in the region. This page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications for the region.

Chapter Table of Contents with Section Links:

Key Message 1: Threats to Water Supplies

Key Message 2: Terrestrial Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity

Key Message 3: Coastal Communities and Systems

Key Message 4: Oceans and Marine Resources 

Key Message 5: Indigenous Communities and Knowledge 

Key Message 6: Cumulative Impacts and Adaptation 


Key Message 1: Threats to Water Supplies

Dependable and safe water supplies for Pacific island communities and ecosystems are threatened by rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, sea level rise, and increased risk of extreme drought and flooding. Islands are already experiencing saltwater contamination due to sea level rise, which is expected to catastrophically impact food and water security, especially on low-lying atolls. Resilience to future threats relies on active monitoring and management of watersheds and freshwater systems.

Key Message 2: Terrestrial Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity

Pacific island ecosystems are notable for the high percentage of species found only in the region, and their biodiversity is both an important cultural resource for island people and a source of economic revenue through tourism. Terrestrial habitats and the goods and services they provide are threatened by rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, increased storminess, and land-use change. These changes promote the spread of invasive species and reduce the ability of habitats to support protected species and sustain human communities. Some species are expected to become extinct and others to decline to the point of requiring protection and costly management.

Key Message 3: Coastal Communities and Systems

The majority of Pacific island communities are confined to a narrow band of land within a few feet of sea level. Sea level rise is now beginning to threaten critical assets such as ecosystems, cultural sites and practices, economies, housing and energy, transportation, and other forms of infrastructure.

By 2100, increases of 1–4 feet in global sea level are very likely, with even higher levels than the global average in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands. This would threaten the food and freshwater supply of Pacific island populations and jeopardize their continued sustainability and resilience. As sea level rise is projected to accelerate strongly after mid-century, adaptation strategies that are implemented sooner can better prepare communities and infrastructure for the most severe impacts.

Key Message 4: Oceans and Marine Resources

Fisheries, coral reefs, and the livelihoods they support are threatened by higher ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.

Widespread coral reef bleaching and mortality have been occurring more frequently, and by mid-century these events are projected to occur annually, especially if current trends in emissions continue. Bleaching and acidification will result in loss of reef structure, leading to lower fisheries yields and loss of coastal protection and habitat.

Declines in oceanic fishery productivity of up to 15% and 50% of current levels are projected by mid-century and 2100, respectively, under the higher scenario (RCP8.5).

Key Message 5: Indigenous Communities and Knowledge

Indigenous peoples of the Pacific are threatened by rising sea levels, diminishing freshwater availability, and shifting ecosystem services. These changes imperil communities' health, well-being, and modern livelihoods, as well as their familial relationships with lands, territories, and resources.

Built on observations of climatic changes over time, the transmission and protection of traditional knowledge and practices, especially via the central role played by Indigenous women, are intergenerational, place-based, localized, and vital for ongoing adaptation and survival.

Sub-categories under this key message:

(None listed under this key message of note)

Key Message 6: Cumulative Impacts and Adaptation

Climate change impacts in the Pacific Islands are expected to amplify existing risks and lead to compounding economic, environmental, social, and cultural costs. In some locations, climate change impacts on ecological and social systems are projected to result in severe disruptions to livelihoods that increase the risk of human conflict or compel the need for migration. Early interventions, already occurring in some places across the region, can prevent costly and lengthy rebuilding of communities and livelihoods and minimize displacement and relocation.

Other Related Resources for the Hawai'i and Pacific Islands Chapter

Disclaimer: The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each regional team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the regional team themselves and not necessarily Climate.gov, NOAA and USGCRP.