Will Hawaii Be Underwater? Hawaii’s Sea Level Rise Explained


Beaches are one of Hawaii’s most important resources, as they bring in business from tourists, protect the residents from tropical storms, and shelter native wildlife. However, as sea levels rise, glacial melt and global warming threaten the tropical beaches on Hawaii’s islands. If we do not correct the adverse effects of climate change, everyone’s favorite destination might eventually disappear. 

All of Hawaii will be underwater in around 41,388 years if sea levels continue to rise at the same rate as they are now, though experts project that the rate will increase. Currently, sea levels rise by 0.25 in (0.64 cm) every year, and some experts predict that Hawaii’s beaches will disappear by 2050.

Let’s discuss how rising sea levels will affect Hawaii in the coming years and explore how climate change will alter The Aloha State. I’ll break down the evidence and tell you everything you need to know about the future of Hawaii’s seas, and I’ll also discuss how Hawaii plans to protect its land from the devastating effects of global warming. 

How Will Climate Change Affect Hawaii? 

Climate change will affect Hawaii by raising the sea level and flooding beaches, businesses, agricultural areas, and habitats for native species. As this flooding occurs, the amount of freshwater on the islands will decrease, and the temperature will threaten much of Hawaii’s wildlife. 

So, let’s break this down and look into the near future to see what Hawaii will look like in 2050 if we do not do anything to correct the current rate at which global warming is developing. 

Rising Ocean Levels Will Flood the Coast

A 2020 study from the University of Hawaii indicated that sea levels will rise in Hawaii by 9 to 29 inches (0.25 to 0.75 m) by 2050. 

This measurement might not sound that large if you only imagine ocean water will creep up the beaches and create a new shoreline. However, this ocean flooding will spread across the island, raising the sea level. 

Simply put, any area currently between 9 to 29 inches (0.25 to 0.75 m) above sea level will become an ocean or lake by the year 2050 if we don’t change anything about global warming. Likewise, those areas with a higher elevation will become wetter, destabilizing the soil and making it prone to erosion and collapse. 

As part of this study, the University of Hawaii launched a new initiative to provide solutions to the effects of climate change in Hawaii and educate people about the rising oceans. 

This program, called The Blue Line Project, mapped out Hawaii with a blue line to indicate the areas covered in water if the sea levels rise by 29 inches (0.75 m). If you want to see images from their results, you can find some of them on the Blue Line Project website. They are pretty shocking. 

These flooding oceans will do more than create new beaches in Hawaii. They will flood businesses that are currently on the beach, drench farmland in saltwater, ruin the sewage system, and wash away building foundations. 

According to the Hawaiian government’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, damages from this flooding will cost Hawaii $19 billion in land losses, housing losses, resident losses, and infrastructural damage. 

The Ocean Levels and Temperature Change Will Affect Hawaiian Wildlife

While sea level rise in Hawaii will damage the economy and displace humans from their homes, the wildlife of these islands will also have to face changing temperatures and habitat displacement. 

Endangered and protected marine species such as the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, humpback whale, and spinner dolphin will have to face a changing seascape with increasingly warm temperatures that may force them to relocate. 

The temperature effects of climate change most threaten these animals, but they will also have to adapt to new environments to compensate for the changing sea levels. 

Land animals and plants will also fall under threat as saltwater taints the islands’ freshwater sources. Freshwater fish and the plants that grow near waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and streams in Hawaii’s forests will either have to relocate or die. Saltwater will also creep into the city water supply, forcing Hawaii to import drinking water or find new water purification solutions. 

Hawaii also expects to see agricultural damages since the saltwater will inhibit the growth of common crops such as pineapple, bananas, taro, corn, sugarcane, and coffee, to name a few. 

How Has Climate Change Already Affected Hawaii?

According to the Hawaiian government, Hawaii was the first US state to declare a climate emergency. Although the islands have not yet seen the worst of sea level rise, they have suffered extensively from climate change’s effects. 

Climate change has already affected Hawaii, resulting in higher tides, increased erosion and compaction, frequent rains and storms, and higher temperatures. These effects have already caused the loss of homes, road damage, sewage flooding, coral bleaching, loss of businesses, and more.

On land, climate change has already resulted in rising ocean tides and higher sea levels, which has ruined homes, made farming less profitable, and harmed Hawaii’s roads and sewage systems. 

In the oceans, rising temperatures have caused coral bleaching and loss of habitat for the many aquatic creatures surrounding the islands. 

In addition, fish have become more scarce and cannot repopulate as quickly in such warm temperatures. For that reason, fisheries and sea fishers have made less money in the past few years. 

If you still want to learn more, I recommend watching this brief news piece on YouTube from VOA Zimbabwe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQBvUckNorA

How Hawaii Plans To Combat the Effects of Climate Change

The Hawaiian government began to address climate change in 2014 when they formed the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission to help develop new ways to prevent erosion, strengthen infrastructure, and spread data about climate change on the islands. 

Since then, they have set many goals to push Hawaii towards producing a net-zero impact on carbon emissions. 

Their efforts include an initiative to become more sustainable and increase on-island crop production and forest canopies, which would prevent soil erosion and reduce emissions from supply importation. 

To learn more about erosion in Hawaii and steps the government has taken to prevent sand erosion on Hawaiian beaches, you may want to read my article on whether it’s illegal to take sand from Hawaii — spoiler alert, it is. 

Hawaii also plans to integrate more affordable public transportation using electric buses to help lower emissions and ensure that financial resources from tourists stay high enough to fund the state’s other plans to make Hawaii more sustainable. 

The state also aims to reach 100% clean energy usage by 2045. 

Conclusion

Based on the sea level rise per year, Hawaii, from the beaches to the tip of Mauna Kea, will be submerged in around 41,000 years if climate change does not accelerate. However, scientific predictions estimate it will accelerate, submerging almost all of Hawaii’s beaches by 2050. 

The threats of climate change are severe for Hawaii, which has spurred the state’s government to commit to developing clean energy usage, returning to traditional Hawaiian agricultural methods, and implementing net-zero carbon emissions measures to take effect between 2030 and 2045. 

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