Sea-level rise affects everyone

  • Contributed

    This enhanced aerial photo envisions potential sea-level rise on the North Shore.

LIHU‘E — “The golden era of coastal living is over,” said University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor Charles “Chip” Fletcher of the Department of Earth Sciences in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, in a recent virtual meeting hosted by the Kaua‘i Board of Realtors (KBR).

According to Fletcher, in addition to mountain glaciers melting, another major cause of sea-level rise is the ocean storing 94% of the heat that is being trapped by the earth’s greenhouse gases.

“We are not feeling that heat. The ocean is absorbing it for us,” Fletcher said. “But when water gets warmer it expands.”

Fletcher believes Hawai‘i and other Polynesian islands are going to be most affected by the glaciers melting and experience more sea-level rise and coastal erosion in the near future.

“And so we sit along with other Polynesian and Micronesian coastal communities, island communities are in about the worst place on the planet with regard to sea-level rise,” Fletcher said. “And so if the global mean is about one meter, what we will see is more than that. We’ll see on the order of 1.3 meters.”

Fletcher said if National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 3.2 feet of sea-level rise, Hawai‘i would actually see 4.3 feet.

Fletcher presented information on sea-level rise and coastal erosion to community leaders, Realtors and county officials at a recent meeting, warning of the urgency to do something now because that response is already 20 years too late.

“The longer you wait, the more expensive it will be to react, to respond,” Fletcher said.

County of Kaua‘i Energy and Sustainability Coordinator Ben Sullivan said for management of county properties, the county’s approach mirrors what is in the General Plan for all coastal areas. That includes minimizing new development in exposed areas, avoiding armorment of the shoreline and beginning planning for relocation of critical county infrastructure that is exposed.

The county is beginning its first Island Wide Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan in the next several months, which will zoom in on high-level policies from the 2018 General Plan and form more-specific approaches and plans for these challenging questions. The eastside coastal path, Ke Ala Hele Makale, is a county facility exposed to coastal erosion in several areas.

“The short-term strategy, again consistent with the General Plan, includes beach-nourishment where appropriate, and minimizing new development in exposed areas,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the Wailua corridor contains numerous critical infrastructure components including the Kuhio Highway, as well as associated utilities (electric, water, wastewater) and county facilities such as the Wailua Wastewater Treatment Plant, and numerous beach parks.

“The CARRP will look at how to address these challenges in greater detail, building from the Kaua‘i General Plan, information in the Multi-Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan and other resources,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said sea-level rise is clearly accelerating, and global emissions have not slowed.

“According to Dr. Fletcher’s presentation from the meeting, 4.3 feet by 2100 is now considered an intermediate scenario for local mean SLR relative to the year 2000,” Sullivan said.

“We greatly appreciate the proactive discussions that continue to take place across our community with partners such as KBR, who clearly understand the imperative for all of us to take action now rather than later to prepare for sea-level rise,” said Sullivan.”

For more information, see the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System website,


Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. randy kansas March 17, 2021 6:00 am Reply

    kauai has one of the fastest eroding shorelines in the world, this has been common knowledge for a long time; the mountains capture the rain, the rain washes to the ocean, the island crumbles and slowly falls apart; nothing will stop it, not even tesla batteries and solar panels;

  2. Uncleaina March 17, 2021 7:32 am Reply

    These guys have been spreading sea level rise disinformation for the past 3 years after they released a study that massively distorts the data. I encourage people to research this for themselves. Sea levels have risen 60 millimeters since 1990. That’s 2.3 INCHES in the past 30 years. It’s been a nearly linear increase. So 80 years from now you would expect a 9.2 inch increase. Yet SOEST predicts this will somehow magically go to 40-50 inch increase!! That’s just WRONG. Please fact check me as much as you like- this report is widely used but is the only one making these far fetched predictions. Yes I believe in climate change. Yes the oceans are rising and we should plan. But it’s NOT rising “1.3 meters by 2100” – if you read the actual report, even this number isn’t supported by their own data – this number comes from the most speculative predictions they made.

  3. Dude March 17, 2021 7:59 am Reply

    Are these the same scientists that said we were going into an Ice Age back in 1970?

  4. KauaiFarmMan March 17, 2021 11:51 am Reply

    Yeah right! Al Gore and the global warming kooks said in the late 90s that major coastal cities would be under water by 2020. Last I checked they are not. Is sea levels rising? Sure but not at the rates they said. This is just another fear propaganda tool to usher in new taxes and create new regulations. Man made global warming is a sham. Classic false flag operation.

  5. Bluedream March 17, 2021 1:13 pm Reply

    1990-Global warming will kill all wildlife in 10 years!
    2000-Climate change will drown us in 10 years!
    2010-Climate change will drown us in 10 years!
    2020- Shut up you racists!

  6. RG DeSoto March 17, 2021 2:39 pm Reply

    It seems that professor Chip neglects the very real physics of plate tectonics. It is well understood the Hawaiian archipelago is moving inexorably to the northwest. As the islands do so, they slowly but surely subside. So to the uninitiated it may seem like the oceans are rising…the truth is the islands are sinking. Take a close look at a map of the archipelago, and even mid-level, double digit IQ types should be able to see that the far NW islands are virtually at sea level or below it. Those islands were, at one point in geologic history, right where the Big Island is now.
    As the Pacific plate moves NW, at a rate 2.75″ per year, it passes over a “hot spot” ( a “leak” in the mantle) which results in violent volcanic activity, eventually forming an island. The Big Island is currently over this spot…Kauai having long ago passed over it (hence no active volcano here). Moreover, off to the southeast of the BIg Island another island, Loihi, is now starting to form as a seamount.
    So, Chip,, quit the fearmongering….we mortals have absolutely zero ability to alter this process which has been going on for billions of years. All we can do is adapt to the consequences.
    RG DeSoto

  7. KauaiFarmMan March 17, 2021 3:28 pm Reply

    Spot on BlueDream!

  8. RGLadder37 March 17, 2021 3:33 pm Reply

    Can they actually measure the distance from earth to the sun? Global warming. If the path of the earth goes into same elliptical orbital path around the sun, the heat from the sun remains constant. Every year. Global warming does not exist. Antartica will still show subzero degrees temperature readings. And Hawai’i will still show mid 80s to 90s degrees weather climate. I think the climate change is due in part to other factors. Not serious enough though.

  9. Rev Dr Malama March 18, 2021 5:38 am Reply

    Wow, all you armchair scientists have such immense knowledge…..
    I’m so depressed !
    To think that a University level expert that this reporter from the garden island news
    painstakingly wrote about is just totally full of bs???
    At 67 years old, I just don’t know what to believe anymore nor do my fellow islanders give me any hope that they will contribute to a better environment for our keiki…. the pollution has become the solution for creating a fake reality through misinformation while locked up in our isolation cells, hence creating feel good jobs in high tech spewing crap out of the electronic devices that you are addicted to rather than addressing a preventive solution….
    God save us all!!!

  10. Stephen Johnson March 18, 2021 10:08 am Reply

    I remember when Wailua had a beach. A BIG beach!

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