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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

East-West Center study to help islanders watch weather

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A new report from the East-West Center should help Pacific Islanders better deal with year-to-year climate variability and with long-term global climate change.

The report of the Pacific Islands Regional Assessment Group is the result of a series of workshops at the center in Manoa.

The goal, said Climate Project coordinator Eileen Shea, was to bring climate science to people working on the ground in the islands, as well as to educate scientists about what kind of information the islanders need.

"The most exciting thing was seeing people in different sectors — tourism, health, agriculture and other fields — learning that a lot of information is available today" that can be put to immediate use, Shea said.

For instance, a South Pacific resort that knows the coming season is going to be stormy might invest in an extra generator in anticipation of losing commercial power.

Or, knowing that a dry season is likely, an operation with limited water resources might invest in a reverse-osmosis unit to make fresh water out of brackish or salt water. Or, a farmer might choose to plant crops capable of handling less moisture.

The new report, called "Preparing for a Changing Climate: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change," focuses on the island groups in the Pacific that have U.S. affiliations: Hawai'i, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, the Marshalls, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Guam.

Tourism, fisheries, trade and government payments are major sources of income in the islands, some of which are susceptible to climate variability. But many residents live subsistence lifestyles that are particularly affected by climate changes.

One feature alone — rising sea levels — can severely impact those on atolls and lower islands. It can cause loss of coastal property, saltwater intrusion into water tables and damage to agricultural lands.

The report cites climate models that anticipate an average sea level rise of 3.9 to 4.7 inches by 2020 to 2040, and 11.8 to 15 inches by 2080 to 2099.

One unanticipated impact of such rises would be that water on reefs would be deeper and cooler — a factor that could change the productivity of the reefs.

The report also looks at the likelihood of increased storm activity, changes in water and air temperature and alterations of the climate variability associated with El Nino and La Nina events.

Shea said a primary goal has been getting people talking to one another.

"We focused mainly on engagement and dialogue," she said, and on helping people learn to adapt to coming changes.

And while mitigation of climate change was not on the agenda, she said that as Pacific Islanders better understand the consequences of climate change, it is likely they will use the information to help apply pressure for global action to control those human activities associated with global warming.

The report will be available at the Web site.

Contact Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.