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Darn right it was hot

LIHUE — Tropical cyclones, coastal erosion, flooding and heat waves set the tone for 2015 in Hawaii and the tune isn’t expected to change in 2016 — in fact, scientists are predicting more of those natural disasters in the coming year.

That’s because they say the temperature of Earth is rising.

Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that 2015 was by far the hottest year in 136 years of record keeping.

In a Wednesday press conference, NOAA said 2015’s temperature was 58.62 degrees Fahrenheit (14.79 degrees Celsius), passing 2014 by a record margin of 0.29 degrees. According to the Associated Press, that’s 1.62 degrees above the 20th century average.

NASA, which measures differently, said 2015 was 0.23 degrees warmer than the record set in 2014 and 1.6 degrees above 20th century average.

For the first time ever, Earth was 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, NOAA and NASA said in the conference. That comes dangerously close to the standard world leaders have set of avoiding a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Steven Taylor, professor of physical and earth sciences at Kauai Community College, said it isn’t a surprise that 2015 is being hailed as the hottest year.

“You can see the signal of warming on every continent over the last 100 years and you can see it in all the oceans,” Taylor said. “And right now, when it’s an El Nino year, the ocean’s circulation changes and more warming is expressed on the surface (of the ocean).”

Taylor said 90 percent of the warming, which scientists say is caused by greenhouse gases, is in the first 6,000 feet of the oceans, so only a small percentage of the effects of global warming is evident on land.

During an El Nino year, circulations in the ocean change and the warmer waters are stirred up to the surface, which intensified an already hot 2015.

Taylor said scientists have discovered the source of global warming.

“It’s easily explained by the greenhouse gases,” Taylor said. “We’ve looked at other causes and they don’t work out.”

Chip Fletcher, associate dean for academic affairs with the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, agreed.

“The science is extremely strong that by burning fossil fuels, we produce more greenhouse gas, which is trapped in the atmosphere and produces heat,” Fletcher said. “That is CO2, and once that’s in the atmosphere it can stimulate over a thousand years of climate change.”

Kauai had a spicy summer, with hotter than normal temperatures that made things miserable for anyone who didn’t have air conditioning. The tradewinds weren’t as strong, either.

“The wind is what makes Hawaii,” Taylor said. “It keeps the land close to the same temperature as the ocean, and this summer we had temperatures that were 4 degrees warmer because the water was warmer.”

“It seems that in a warming world, we’d expect weaker tradewinds, less frequent tradewinds, and more of the weather we had this summer,” he added.

Along with the heat came an unusual number of tropical cyclones and hurricanes. That trend is expected to continue into 2016.

“While they’re not calling for more hurricanes worldwide, the models are forecasting that these storms are shifting away from the equator and more on track to intersect Kauai,” Fletcher said. “In a warmer world with warmer water, you get stronger rains, stronger winds, and more intense hurricanes.”

Taylor said the sea level globally has risen about 10 inches over the last 70 years and predictions are that it will raise another three-to-six feet by the year 2090.

Terry Lilley, a marine biologist in Hanalei, said the rising sea temperatures are having an effect on the reef and shorelines of the island.

“This causes more erosion on our beaches and loss of beach sand,” Lilley said. “We are also losing our coral reefs quickly. Live corals cause the waves to break on the reef and not the beach, but when the corals die, more wave energy hits the beach, accelerating erosion.”

Warm waters cause coral bleaching, Lilley explained, which turns the coral from vibrant colors to white and can lead to death of the reef — which, in turn, causes more coastal erosion.

“Coastal erosion contributes to flooding because the rainfall can’t drain as easy (off the island),” Fletcher said. “We could probably reliably predict that the extreme rainfall and flooding is going to be in our future.”

Carl Berg, chairman of Surfrider Kauai, said he thinks the tourism industry is contributing to the climate changes around the island and there’s a chance that Kauai’s visitor industry will be affected as conditions change.

“Ever increasing visitors means way more CO2 produced by airlines, (which) means sea level rise, loss of beaches and that it’s too hot for tourists,” Berg said. “There goes the economy.”

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