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NCA Education Resources for the Hawai’i
and Pacific Islands Region

"Warmer oceans are leading to increased coral bleaching and disease outbreaks and changing distribution of tuna fisheries. Freshwater supplies will become more limited on many islands. Coastal flooding and erosion will increase. Mounting threats to food and water security, infrastructure, health, and safety are expected to lead to increasing human migration." National Climate Assessment, 2014

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

Disclaimer:
The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the team themselves and not necessarily Climate.gov, NOAA, or USGCRP.

Contributors:
Rachel Connolly - National Center for Science Education

Through its Our Changing Climate section and Climate Science Supplement sections, the NCA contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science. This content will support the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into science education. The NGSS also asks educators to raise the teaching of engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. In the Adaptation and Infrastructure sections of the NCA, educators can find information on climate-related problems and solutions, including those that draw on engineering design. The Decision Support section provides information on how decision makers across the country are using climate information to prepare for the impacts of climate change that affect where they work and live.

This webpage features key figures, related resources, and lesson plans, videos and visualizations reviewed by CLEAN for all the NCA key messages for the region.  The page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications of climate variability and climate change for Hawai’i and Pacific Islands region.

 

NCA Hawai’i and Pacific Islands Report and Highlights

Report

Highlights

Islas Hawai'i y del Pacifico (Spanish translation)

NCA Key Message 1: Changes to Marine Ecosystems

visit the full Changes to Marine Ecosystems page

Warmer oceans are leading to increased coral bleaching events and disease outbreaks in coral reefs, as well as changed distribution patterns of tuna fisheries. Ocean acidification will reduce coral growth and health. Warming and acidification, combined with existing stresses, will strongly affect coral reef fish communities.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are two examples of projected long-term changes to marine ecosystems in this region? Why is ocean acidification a significant concern?
  • In what ways could potential marine ecosystem changes have impacts on local and regional economies?
  • How is this region sensitive to patterns of climate vulnerability?

2. Key Figures

Figure 23.3: Increased Acidification Decreases Suitable Coral Habitat
Ocean waters have already become more acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As this absorption lowers pH, it reduces the amount of calcium carbonate, which is critical for many marine species to reproduce and grow. Maps show projections of the saturation state of aragonite (the form of calcium carbonate used by coral and many other species) if CO2 levels were stabilized at 380 ppm (a level that has already been exceeded), 450 ppm (middle map), and 500 ppm (bottom map), corresponding approximately to the years 2005, 2030, and 2050, assuming a decrease in emissions from the current trend (scenario A1B). As shown on the maps, many areas that are adequate will become marginal. Higher emissions will lead to many more places where aragonite concentrations are “marginal” or “extremely marginal” in much of the Pacific. (Figure source: Burke et al. 2011).

Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water
Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are free-swimming sea snails about the size of a small pea. Pteropods are eaten by marine species ranging in size from tiny krill to whales and are an important source of food for North Pacific juvenile salmon. The photos above show what happens to a pteropod’s shell in seawater that is too acidic. The left panel shows a shell collected from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod collected in a region where the water is more acidic (Photo credits: (left) Bednaršek et al. 2012;1 (right) Nina Bednaršek).

Ocean Acidification Reduces Size of Clams
Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are free-swimming sea snails about the size of a small pea. Pteropods are eaten by marine species ranging in size from tiny krill to whales and are an important source of food for North Pacific juvenile salmon. The photos above show what happens to a pteropod’s shell in seawater that is too acidic. The left panel shows a shell collected from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod collected in a region where the water is more acidic (Photo credits: (left) Bednaršek et al. 2012;1 (right) Nina Bednaršek).

3. Other Resources

Climate Change Indicators in the United States- Ocean Acidity
EPA page, contains graphs on ocean acidity in Hawaii.

4. Lesson Plans

Off Base- Acidity of Oceans
This lesson guides a student inquiry into properties of the ocean's carbonate buffer system, and how changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may affect ocean pH and biological organisms that depend on calcification. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

Our Acidifying Ocean
This 3-part interactive and virtual lab activity examines the life cycle of the sea urchin, and how the increasing acidity of the ocean affects their larval development. Direct Link

Level: High School

5. Videos/Visualization

What is Ocean Acidification?
This static image from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program offers a visually compelling and scientifically sound image of the sea water carbonate chemistry process that leads to ocean acidification and impedes calcification. Direct Link

Level: High School, College, Informal

NCA Key Message 2: Decreasing Freshwater Availability

visit the full Decreasing Freshwater Availability page

Freshwater supplies are already constrained and will become more limited on many islands. Saltwater intrusion associated with sea level rise will reduce the quantity and quality of freshwater in coastal aquifers, especially on low islands. In areas where precipitation does not increase, freshwater supplies will be adversely affected as air temperature rises.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What precipitation trends have been observed in the different parts of this region? How certain are these projections?
  • What factors will affect freshwater availability on the islands? What general predictions of climate-related impacts have we made thus far? What risks will local communities likely face?

2. Key Figures

Observed Changes in Annual Rainfall in the Western North Pacific
Islands in the western reaches of the Pacific Ocean are getting slightly more rainfall than in the past, while islands more to the east are getting drier (measured in change in inches of monthly rainfall per decade over the period 1950-2010). Darker blue shading indicates that conditions are wetter, while darker red shading indicates drier conditions. The size of the dot is proportional to the size of the trend on the inset scale. (Figure source: Keener et al. 20121).

Figure 2.6: Projected Change in Average Annual Precipitation
Projected change in average annual precipitation over the period 2071-2099 (compared to the period 1970-1999) under a low scenario that assumes rapid reductions in emissions and concentrations of heat-trapping gasses (RCP 2.6), and a higher scenario that assumes continued increases in emissions (RCP 8.5). Hatched areas indicate confidence that the projected changes are significant and consistent among models. White areas indicate that the changes are not projected to be larger than could be expected from natural variability. In general, northern parts of the U.S. (especially the Northeast and Alaska) are projected to receive more precipitation, while southern parts (especially the Southwest) are projected to receive less. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

3. Other Resources

Climate Impacts in the U.S. Islands: Impacts on Water Resources
EPA page

Water Resources and Climate Change Adaptation in Hawai’i: Adaptive Tools in the Current Law and Policy Framework

  • Produced by the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy in 2012
  • Fairly long report, but relevant and potentially very useful.

4. Lesson Plans

Detecting El Niño in Sea Surface Temperature Data
This multi-part activity introduces users to normal seasonal sea surface temperature (SST) variation as well as extreme variation, as in the case of El Niño and La Niña events, in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Via a THREDDS server, users learn how to download seasonal SST data for the years 1982 to 1998. Using a geographic information system (GIS), they visualize and analyze that data, looking for the tell-tale SST signature of El Niño and La Niña events that occurred during that time period. At the end, students analyze a season of their own choosing to determine if an El Niño or La Niña SST pattern emerged in that year's data. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

5. Videos/Visualizations

Sea Level Viewer
Video and animations of sea level from NASA's Climate website. Since 1992, NASA and CNES have studied sea surface topography as a proxy for ocean temperatures. NASA Missions TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason 1 and Jason 2 have been useful in predicting major climate, weather, and geologic events including El Niño, La Niña, Hurricane Katrina, and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School, College, Informal, General Public

Note: This Key Message mentioned how sea level rise will affect water availability, so including this is a way for students to visualize it. Could also be included in Key Message 4. Latest view is January 2013.

NCA Key Message 3: Increased Stress on Native Plants and Animals

visit the full Increased Stress on Native Plants and Animals page

Increasing temperatures, and in some areas reduced rainfall, will stress native Pacific Island plants and animals, especially in high-elevation ecosystems with increasing exposure to invasive species, increasing the risk of extinctions.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What factors contribute to an organism’s ability to adapt to changing climate zones? Why will some invasive species have the upper hand in this situation?
  • Which effects have already been observed in this region? List two local species that have been strongly affected by climate change, and explain why.

2. Key Figures

Native Plants at Risk
Warming at high elevations could alter the distribution of native plants and animals in mountainous ecosystems and increase the threat of invasive species. The threatened, endemic ‘ahinahina, or Haleakalā silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum), shown here in full bloom on Maui, Hawaiian Islands, is one example. (Photo credit: Forest and Kim Starr).

3. Other Resources

Climate Impacts in the U.S. Islands: Impacts on Ecosystems
EPA page

4. Lesson Plans

Climate Change and Ecosystems
In this activity students research the inter-dependencies among plants and animals in an ecosystem and explore how climate change might affect those inter-dependencies and the ecosystem as a whole. Direct Link

Level: High School, Introductory, College Lower

5. Videos

Samoa Under Threat
This video adapted from Bullfrog Films examines the effects of global warming on the Pacific island of Samoa with testimonials from an expert in both western science knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge. Background essay and discussion questions are included. Direct link

Level: Intermediate, Middle, High School, College, Graduate/Professional

Note: need PBS login to access

Climate Change Wildlife and Wildlands
This video focuses on the science of climate change and its impacts on wildlife on land and in the sea, and their habitats in the U.S. There are short sections on walruses, coral reefs, migrating birds and their breeding grounds, freshwater fish, bees, etc. Video concludes with some discussion about solutions, including reduce/recyle/reuse, energy conservation, backyard habitats, citizen scientists. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School

NCA Key Message 4: Sea Level Rising

visit the full Sea Level Rising page

Rising sea levels, coupled with high water levels caused by tropical and extra-tropical storms, will incrementally increase coastal flooding and erosion, damaging coastal ecosystems, infrastructure, and agriculture, and negatively affecting tourism.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are long-term projections for sea level rise in the Pacific?
  • What potential impacts will sea level rise have on structures and industries? Agricultural areas? Local species? The overall economy? Give several examples.

2. Key Figures

Saltwater Intrusion Destroys Crops
Taro crops destroyed by encroaching saltwater at Lukunoch Atoll, Chuuk State, FSM. Giant swamp taro is a staple crop in Micronesia that requires a two- to three-year growing period from initial planting to harvest. After a saltwater inundation from a storm surge or very high tide, it may take two years of normal rainfall to flush brackish water from a taro patch, resulting in a five-year gap before the next harvest if no further saltwater intrusion takes place. (Photo credit: John Quidachay, USDA Forest Service).

Residents of Low-Lying Islands at Risk
Residents of places like the Namdrik Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with a land area of just 1.1 square miles and a maximum elevation of 10 feet, may be among the first to face the possibility of climate change induced human migration as sea level continues to rise. (Photo credit: Darren Nakata).

Higher Sea Level Rise in Western Pacific
Map shows large variations across the Pacific Ocean in sea level trends for 1993-2010. The largest sea level increase has been observed in the western Pacific. (Figure source: adapted from Merrifield 201165 by permission of American Meteorological Society).

3. Other Resources

Sea Level Rise Viewer

  • Found through NOAA
  • Can zoom in to focus on Hawaii

4. Lesson Plans

Impacts of Topography on Sea Level Change
This lesson is comprised of three activities (three class periods). Students use web-based animations to explore the impacts of ice melt and changes to sea level. Students are introduced to topographic maps by doing a hands-on activity to model the contours of an island. Students examine the relationship between topography and sea level change by mapping changing shorelines using a topographic map. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School

5. Videos/Visualizations

Vanishing Island: Sea Level Rise
This video features interviews with native people living on atoll islands in Micronesia, so viewers are able to understand the real, current threats that these people are facing due to climate change. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

Global Warming Effects Map
This interactive map from National Geographic shows selected geographic locations for a number of impacts of global warming (on freshwater resources, food and forests, ecosystems, etc). Impact overview is summarized for each highlighted impact. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

Note: Included because of the Hawaii section on the map. Also a good “big picture” map.

NCA Key Message 5: Threats to Lives, Livelihoods, and Cultures

visit the full Threats to Lives, Livelihoods, and Cultures page

Mounting threats to food and water security, infrastructure, and public health and safety are expected to lead to increasing human migration from low to high elevation islands and continental sites, making it increasingly difficult for Pacific Islanders to sustain the region’s many unique customs, beliefs, and languages.

1. Guiding Questions

  • Why is the vulnerability of ports and airports to climate events so concerning in the Pacific Islands?
  • How could public health be threatened by climate change impacts?
  • What are the risks to indigenous communities?
  • What steps toward adaptation have been taken thus far, and what still needs to be done?

2. Key Figures

Heavy Downpours are Increasing Exposure to Disease
Heavy downpours, which are increasing in the United States, have contributed to increases in heavy flood events (Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 6). The figure above illustrates how people can become exposed to waterborne diseases. Human exposures to waterborne diseases can occur via drinking water, as well as recreational waters.102,103,104,143,144,101 (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

Figure is from general Human Health section.

Indigenous Populations Extend Beyond Reservation Lands
Census data show that American Indian and Alaska Native populations are concentrated around, but are not limited to, reservation lands like the Hopi and Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee in Oklahoma, and various Sioux tribes in the Dakotas and Montana. Not depicted in this graphic is the proportion of Native Americans who live off-reservation and in and around urban centers (such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles) yet still maintain strong family ties to their tribes, tribal lands, and cultural resources. (Figure source: Norris et al. 201295).

3. Other Resources

Climate Impacts in the U.S. Islands: Impacts on Infrastructure, Economy, and Culture
EPA page

4. Lesson Plans/Videos/Visualizations

Tuvalu- Islands on the Frontlines of Climate Change
This narrated slideshow describes the impact of sea level rise on Tuvalu, one of the low-lying island nations in the South Pacific. As the frequency and intensity of floods and cyclones increases, the island is shrinking and saltwater intrusion is affecting local food production on the plantations. As a result, many residents are moving off the island to New Zealand, where they face major cultural changes. Direct Link

Level: High School, College Lower, Informal

Note: Not a U.S. Island, but the issues faced here are relevant.

Samoa Under Threat
This video adapted from Bullfrog Films examines the effects of global warming on the Pacific island of Samoa with testimonials from an expert in both western science knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge. Background essay and discussion questions are included. Direct link

Level: Intermediate, Middle, High School, College, Graduate/Professional

Note: need PBS login to access, was also included in key message 3, but seems appropriate here as well.

Changing Planet: Infectious Diseases
This video illustrates conditions under which two infectious diseases - cholera and dengue fever - flourish, and how climate change is likely to exacerbate those conditions. Direct Link

Level: Middle, High School

General Resources

Key figures

U.S. Pacific Islands Region
The U.S. Pacific Islands region includes our 50th state, Hawai‘i, as well as the Territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Republic of Palau (RP), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Citizens of Guam and CNMI are U.S. citizens, and citizens of American Samoa are U.S. nationals. Through the Compacts of Free Association, citizens of RP, FSM, and RMI have the right to travel to the U.S. without visas to maintain “habitual residence” and to pursue education and employment. The map shows three sub-regions used in this assessment and the islands that comprise the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. Shaded areas indicate each island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (Figure source: Keener et al. 20121).

“High” and “Low” Pacific Islands Face Different Threats
The Pacific Islands include “high” volcanic islands, such as that on the left, that reach nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, and “low” atolls and islands, such as that on the right, that peak at just a few feet above present sea level. (Left) Ko‘olau Mountains on the windward side of Oahu, Hawai‘i (Photo credit: kstrebor via Flickr.com). (Right) Laysan Island, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: Andy Collins, NOAA).

Pacific islands Climate Education Partnership (PCEP)
PCEP is a NSF funded collaborative network of Pacific Island communities and friends responding to the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Island region. PCEP is developing several classroom resources to support learning and teaching about climate change -- videos, several mini-labs, project-based learning templates, and more.