United States
                           Environmental Protection
                                         Office of Policy
                                                          EPA 236-F-98-007e
                                                          September 1998
                           Climate  Change  And  Hawaii
The earth's climate is predicted to change because human
activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere
through the buildup of greenhouse gases  primarily carbon
dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. The
heat-trapping property of these greenhouse gases is undisputed.
Although there is uncertainty about exactly how and when the
earth's climate will respond to enhanced concentrations of
greenhouse gases, observations indicate that detectable changes
are underway. There most likely will be increases in temperature
and changes in precipitation, soil moisture, and sea level, which
could have adverse effects on many ecological systems, as well
as on human health and the economy.

The Climate System

Energy from the sun drives the earth's weather and climate.
Atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide,
and other gases) trap some of the energy from the sun, creating
a natural "greenhouse  effect."  Without this effect, temperatures
would be much lower than they are now, and life as known today
would not be possible. Instead, thanks to greenhouse gases, the
earth's average temperature is a more hospitable 60F. However,
problems arise when the greenhouse effect is enhanced by
human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases.

Global warming would do more than add a few degrees to today's
average temperatures.  Cold spells still would occur in winter, but
heat waves would be more common. Some places would be drier,
others wetter. Perhaps more important, more precipitation may
come in short, intense bursts (e.g., more than 2 inches of rain
in a day), which could lead to more flooding. Sea levels would
be higher than they would have been without global warming,
although the actual changes may vary from place to place
because coastal lands are themselves sinking or rising.

                The Greenhouse Effect
Some solar radiation
 is reflected by the
  earth and the
Some of the infrared radiation passes
through the atmosphere, and some is
absorbed and re-emitted in all directions
by greenhouse gas molecules. The effect
of this is to warm the earth's surface and
the lower atmosphere.
     Source: U.S. Department of State (1992)
Emissions Of Greenhouse Gases

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, human activities
have been adding measurably to natural background levels of
greenhouse gases. The burning of fossil fuels  coal, oil, and
natural gas  for energy is the primary source of emissions.
Energy burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and busi-
nesses, and power factories is responsible for about 80% of
global carbon dioxide emissions, about 25% of U. S. methane
emissions, and about 20% of global nitrous oxide emissions.
Increased agriculture and deforestation, landfills, and industrial
production and mining also contribute a significant share of
emissions. In 1994, the United States emitted about one-fifth of
total global greenhouse gases.

Concentrations Of Greenhouse Gases

Since the pre-industrial era, atmospheric concentrations of carbon
dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have
more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen
by about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat-trapping
capability of the earth's atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols, a common
air pollutant, cool the atmosphere by reflecting incoming solar
radiation. However, sulfates are short-lived and vary  regionally,
so they do not offset greenhouse gas warming.

Although many greenhouse gases already are present in the
atmosphere, oceans, and vegetation, their concentrations in
the future will depend in part on present and future emissions.
Estimating future emissions is difficult, because they  will
depend on demographic, economic, technological, policy, and
institutional developments. Several emissions scenarios have
been developed based on differing projections of these under-
lying factors. For example, by 2100, in the absence of emissions
control policies, carbon dioxide concentrations are projected
to be 30-150% higher than today's levels.

Current Climatic Changes

Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.6-1.2F
between 1890 and 1996. The 9 warmestyears in this century all
have occurred in the last 14 years. Of these, 1995 was the warmest
year on record, suggesting the atmosphere has rebounded from
the temporary cooling caused by the eruption of Mt.  Pinatubo in
the Philippines.

Several pieces of additional evidence consistent with warming,
such as a decrease in Northern Hemisphere snow cover, a
decrease in Arctic Sea ice, and continued melting of alpine
glaciers, have been corroborated. Globally, sea levels have risen

     Global Temperature Changes (1861-1996)
    Source: IPCC (1995),  updated

4-10 inches over the past century, and precipitation over land has
increased slightly. The frequency of extreme rainfall events also
has increased throughout much of the United States.

A new international scientific assessment by the Intergovern-
mental Panel on Climate Change  recently concluded that "the
balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence
on global climate."

Future Climatic Changes

For a given concentration of greenhouse gases, the resulting
increase in the atmosphere's heat-trapping ability can be pre-
dicted with precision, but the resulting impact on climate is more
uncertain. The climate system is complex and dynamic, with
constant interaction between the  atmosphere, land, ice, and
oceans. Further, humans have never experienced such a rapid rise
in greenhouse gases. In effect, a large and uncontrolled planet-
wide experiment is being conducted.

General circulation models are complex computer simulations that
describe the circulation of air and ocean currents and how energy
is transported within the climate system. While uncertainties
remain, these  models are a powerful tool for studying climate. As
a result of continuous model improvements over the last few
decades, scientists are reasonably confident about the link
between global greenhouse gas concentrations and temperature
and about the  ability of models to characterize future climate at
continental scales.

Recent model calculations suggest that the global surface temper-
ature could increase an average of 1.6-6.3F by 2100, with signif-
icant regional variation. These temperature changes would be far
greater than recent natural fluctuations, and they would occur
significantly faster than any known changes in the last 10,000
years. The United States is projected to warm more than the
global average, especially as fewer sulfate aerosols are produced.

The models suggest that the rate  of evaporation will increase as
the climate warms, which will increase average global precipita-
tion. They also suggest increased frequency of intense rainfall as
well as a marked decrease in soil moisture over some mid-
continental regions during the summer. Sea level is projected to
increase by 6-38 inches by 2100.

Calculations of regional climate change are much less reliable
than global ones, and it is unclear whether regional climate will
become more variable. The frequency and intensity of some
extreme weather of critical importance to ecological systems
(droughts, floods, frosts,  cloudiness, the frequency of hot or cold
spells, and the  intensity of associated fire  and pest outbreaks)
could increase.
Local Climate Changes

In Honolulu, Hawaii, the average temperature has increased 4.4F
over the last century, and precipitation has decreased approxi-
mately 20% over the last 90 years. These past trends may or may
not continue in the future.

Over the next century, climate in Hawaii may change even more.
For example, based on projections made by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change and results from the United Kingdom
Hadley Centre's climate model (HadCM2), a model that accounts
for both greenhouse gases and aerosols, by 2100 temperatures in
Hawaii could increase by 3 F (with a range of 1 -5 F) in all
seasons, slightly more in fall.  Future changes in precipitation are
highly uncertain because they depend in part on how El Nino
might change, and reliable projections of changes in El Nino have
yet to be made. It is possible that quite large  precipitation
increases could occur in summer (particularly) and fall. Other
climate models may show different results, especially regarding
estimated changes in precipitation. The impacts described in the
sections that follow take into account estimates from different
models. The frequency of extreme hot days in summer would
increase because of the general warming trend. It is not clear how
the severity of storms such as hurricanes might be affected.
although an increase in the frequency and intensity of summer
thunderstorms is possible.
Human Health

Higher temperatures and increased frequency of heat waves may
increase the number of heat-related deaths and the incidence of
heat-related illnesses. The elderly, particularly those living alone.

     Precipitation Trends From 1900 To Present
                                    Trends/100 years

                                         -5% O
                                        -10% O
                                                              Source: Karl et al. (1996)

are at greatest risk. These effects have been studied only for
populations living in urban areas; however, even those in rural
areas may be susceptible.

Climate change could increase concentrations of ground-level
ozone. For example, high temperatures, strong sunlight, and
stable air masses tend to increase urban ozone levels. Although
Hawaii is in compliance with current air quality standards,
increased temperatures could make remaining in compliance
more difficult. Ground-level ozone is associated with respiratory
illnesses such as asthma, reduced lung function, and respiratory
inflammation. Air pollution also is made worse by increases in
natural hydrocarbon emissions  such as emissions of terpenes by
trees and shrubs during hot weather. If a warmed climate causes
increased use of air conditioners, air pollutant emissions from
power plants also will increase.

Warmer seas could enhance the growth of toxic algae, and
can lead to harmful algal blooms, that is, red tides. The increased
intensity, duration, and extent of harmful algal blooms can
damage habitat  and shellfish nurseries. These  blooms can be
toxic to humans and can carry bacteria like those causing cholera.
Viral and bacterial contamination of shellfish has repeatedly
caused illness, and warmer waters could contribute to these
illnesses. Future warming combined with local pollution most
likely would continue to damage fish and shellfish and thus
affect human health.

Warming and other climate changes may expand the habitat and
infectivity of disease-carrying insects, increasing the potential
for transmission of diseases such as malaria and dengue ("break
bone") fever. Although dengue fever is currently uncommon in
the United States, conditions already exist in Hawaii that make it
vulnerable to the disease. Warmer temperatures resulting from
climate change could increase this risk. Developed countries
such as the United States should be able to minimize the impacts
of these diseases through existing disease prevention and
control methods.
Coastal  Areas

Sea level rise could lead to flooding of low-lying property, loss
of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination
of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying roads.
causeways, and bridges. In addition, sea level rise could increase
the vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and associated

The 1,000-mile tidally influenced shorelines of the Hawaiian
islands contain some of the world's most famous white-sand
beaches as well as steep cliffs. Hawaii's beaches are generally
not subject to erosion by waves because of the protective
influence of offshore coral reefs. The coral reefs, which are the
source of the white sand, could provide sufficient natural
nourishment to the beaches under sea level rise. However, the
effects of accelerated sea level rise on coral reef ecosystems are
poorly understood, and these beaches may require additional
sand replenishment.
         Future Sea Level Rise At Honolulu



5% Chance
50% Chance
90% Chance

j- ~.




      Sources: Lyles et al. (1988); EPA (1995)

At Honolulu, Nawiliwili, and Hilo, sea level already is rising by
6-14 inches per century, and it is likely to rise another 17-25
inches by 2100. Possible responses to sea level rise include
building walls to hold back the sea, allowing the sea to advance
and adapting to it, and raising the land (e.g., by replenishing
beach sand, elevating houses and infrastructure). Each of these
responses will be costly, either in out-of-pocket costs or in lost
land and structures. For example, the cumulative cost of sand
replenishment to protect the coast of Hawaii from a 20-inch sea
level rise by 2100 is estimated at $340 million to $6 billion.
However, sand replenishment may not be cost-effective for all
coastal areas in the state, and costs may be lower (although
some coastal areas would be inundated).

Water Resources

In a warmer climate, runoff and water availability in Hawaii
would be influenced primarily by higher temperatures, increased
evaporation, and changes in rainfall. Increased rainfall and runoff
could recharge aquifers and ease water supply problems;
however, it also could increase flooding. In Hawaii, hurricanes.
severe storms, storm runoff, and high surf (including tsunamis)
cause flooding, extensive property damage, and loss of life.
Although the effect of a warmer climate on the frequency and
severity of tropical cyclones is uncertain, the combination of
rising sea level and increased rainfall could exacerbate flooding.
The northern and western coasts of each island are particularly
vulnerable to high surf, which often damages homes, roads, and
resort complexes. The extensively developed coasts of Oahu are
particularly susceptible to costly damages. Additionally, in a
warmer climate, heavier rains are expected. The resulting increase
in runoff could also impair water quality by increasing sediment
and pollutant runoff from agricultural lands, overgrazed pasture
lands, and urban areas.

Hawaii's water resources are very susceptible to prolonged
droughts. During these periods, low rainfall and streamflow often
lead to increased usage of groundwater, which causes ground-
water levels to decline and increases the likelihood of salt water
intrusion. Severe droughts also result in crop damage, livestock
losses, and water-use restrictions. Under warmer conditions, the
variability of climate is expected to increase, which could lead to
more frequent and intense droughts.


The mix of crop and livestock production in a state is influenced
by climatic conditions and water availability. As climate warms.
production patterns could shift northward. Increases in climate
variability could make adaptation by farmers more difficult.
Warmer climates and less soil moisture due to increased evapora-
tion may increase the need for irrigation. However, these same
conditions could decrease water supplies, which also may be
needed by natural ecosystems, urban populations, industry.
and other users.

Understandably, most studies have not fully accounted for
changes in climate variability, water availability, crop pests.
changes in air pollution such as ozone, and adaptation by
farmers to changing climate. Including these factors could
change modeling results substantially. Analyses that assume
changes in average climate and effective adaptation by farmers
suggest that aggregate U.S. food production would not be
harmed, although there may be significant regional changes.

In Hawaii, production agriculture is a $500 million annual industry.
80% of which comes from crops. Almost one-half of the farmed
acres are irrigated. The major crops in the state are sugarcane and
pineapple. Climate change could increase their yields by about
10%. Farmed acres could remainfairly constant.

Trees and forests are adapted to specific climate conditions.
and as climate warms, forests will change. These changes could
include changes in species composition, geographic range, and
health and productivity. If conditions also become drier, the
current range and density of forests could be reduced and
replaced by grasslands and pasture. Even a warmer and wetter
climate could lead to changes; trees that are better adapted to
these conditions would thrive. Under these conditions, forests
could become more dense. These changes could occur during the
lifetimes of today's children, particularly if the change is acceler-
ated by other stresses such as fire, pests, and diseases. Some of
these stresses would themselves be worsened by a warmer and
drier climate.

The native Hawaiian tree 'ohi'a appears to be strongly influenced
by long-term changes in climate, and older trees are particularly
sensitive to both drought and heavy rains. 'Ohi'a is a widely
distributed species that is essential habitat for many important
Hawaiian animals, especially the endangered Hawaiian honey-
creeper found in old-growth 'ohi'a forests. Native Hawaiian
forests are being reduced and in some cases eliminated by
competition by non-native trees and plants. Changes in climate
could cause further stress because the non-native species are
more tolerant of temperature and rainfall changes than native
species. Climatic stress on trees also tends to make them more
vulnerable to fungal and insect pests. For example,  one fungus.
Phytophthora cinnamomi, is a widespread cause of declining
forests in Hawaii,  and is often triggered by unusual climatic
conditions that stress trees. Warmer conditions could alter the
extent and composition of the unique forests surrounding the
taller mountains of the island of Hawaii. Worldwide, tropical
cloud forests are one of the rarest of natural habitats, and may
be among the most sensitive to climate change. At present, this
cloud forest is one of the wettest ecosystems on earth. Even
small changes in climatic conditions could cause major changes
in the cloud cover and precipitation regimes that maintain the rain
forests of Haleakala. The upper limit of the cloud forest zone is
determined by the altitude of the upper cloud zone (a function of
climate). Climate change could cause a shift in distribution of
cloud forest species. The increased possibility of forest fire under
drought conditions is especially damaging in tropical forests.
where species are not adapted to this type of disturbance. Fire
is typically a primary mechanism whereby non-native species
invade ecosystems. Increased frequency or intensity of hurri-
canes will exacerbate the problems associated with fire and
invasive species. An increase in severity or frequency of hurri-
canes and tropical storms could alter forest composition on
the island.

Hawaii is surprisingly diverse geographically, from atolls to
snow capped peaks more than 12,000 feet high. The remote
and unpopulated outer islands are home to some of the largest
seabird colonies in the world  up to 10 million albatrosses.
frigatebirds, shearwaters, boobies, sooty and fairy terns, and
petrels breed here. The diversity of environments and the extreme
isolation of the state have resulted in a spectacular variety of
species, many of which are endemic to the islands. An estimated
91% of flowering plants species, 81% of birds, and 99% of
terrestrial snails and arthropods are found only here. At the same
time, Hawaii is the world's capital for species extinction and
endangerment. Of the known U.S. extinctions, 70% have occurred
here. Since 1778, the year of European contact, 263 species are
known to have become extinct, including 50% of the bird fauna
and perhaps 50% of plants and 90% of native land snails.
Currently, there are more endangered species per square mile on
these islands than any other place on the planet. Twenty-five
percent of U.S. endangered species are found here, including
2 mammals, 30 birds, 5 reptiles and amphibians, 1 snails genus.
and 279 plant taxa. Important contributors to this wave of loss
and endangerment are habitat loss, introduced diseases, and
impacts from introduced organisms, especially pigs, goats.
sheep,  and cattle.

The estimated increases in temperature and changes in precipita-
tion due to climate change adds another threat to this onslaught
of human-created problems. One of nine endemic bird species in
the Hawaiian honey creeper family found in the cloud forests of
East Maui, the endangered i'iwi has survived in the higher forests
of Haleakala National Park because mosquitos that transmit
deadly avian malaria apparently cannot breed at higher elevations
because of the cooler temperatures. A warmer climate might allow
the mosquito to move farther up the mountain.
For further information about the potential impacts of climate
change, contact the Climate and Policy Assessment Division
(2174), U.S.  EPA, 401 M Street SW, Washington, DC 20460, or
visit http://www. epa.gov/globalwarming/impacts.