Pacific Islands CASC-funded graduate students celebrate the successful completion of their manager-driven research


    The Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC) congratulates University of Hawai‘i at Hilo students Rose Hart and Louise Economy on successfully defending their graduate degree theses. These are the first two graduate students in their cohort at UH Hilo to finish novel manager-driven projects developed with the critical input of stakeholders and with the specific goal of generating end products that can be immediately applied to the benefit of the community.

    Their projects, and three others like them, derived from the PI-CASC Manager Climate Corps (MCC) program out of UH Hilo, which fosters local networking and collaboration as a mechanism to build local island capacity to adapt to climate change impacts through stakeholder-driven research projects and collaborative forums.

Left image shows student perched on a rocky outcrop on a sandy beach with an instrument. Right image looks up at a house on the very edge of a cvegetated cliffside.Study sites for Hart's shoreline project: Hāpuna Beach (left), a Honoli‘i cliff side (right). Her third field site, Kapoho's Vacation Estates has since been covered by new lava activity.

    Rose Hart's project grew out of her experience working at the Hawai‘i County Planning Office and seeing first-hand the importance of Hawai‘i Island county setbacks, or the distance from the shoreline within which active development is allowed. Her graduate project focused on determining the rates of shoreline changes for a geologically diverse set of coastlines, comparing historical photos with newly acquired UAV imagery and remote sensing data to estimate historical and current coastal erosion rates. Results suggested that sandy shorelines show variable accretion and erosion with the seasons, but at Hāpuna Beach, there was a net retreat since 1969 of about 0.18 m/yr. In comparison, the sea cliff in Honoli‘i that Hart examined showed very episodic retreat, but with a total of 9.5 m retreat of the cliff top in 54 years. (Her third field site, a lava field coastline in Kapoho has since been overrun by lava from the recent lower rift zone activity on Kilauea!) With further comparison to current sea level rise estimates, inundation predictions were generated to inform county setbacks and to help in making future coastal management and adaptation decisions. For example, at Hāpuna Beach, with 1 m of sea level rise, only 6% of the current beach would remain, even accounting for seasonal shifts. County planners are already using the project results to make necessary adjustments to their setback policy, helping to increase local adaptive capacity.

Image shows two students on the rocky edge of Hilo Bay, one collecting a water sample, one recording notesWater sampling on Hilo Bay, HI, for Economy's water quality project.

    Louise Economy's project examined a different effect of climate change: how increased rainfall, and resulting greater river discharge, may affect the concentrations of bacterial contaminants in Hilo Bay. Specifically, she investigated the levels of Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant S. Aureus (MRSA) both in the bay and within potential areas of the watershed landscape, to track the sources of these pathogens. In addition, she examined the variability of concentrations between drier and wetter periods to determine whether community members may be more at risk of infection after heavier rainfall events. Economy found traces of S. aureus across the Bay and throughout its watershed (in streams, wastewater, road runoff, and soil), with higher concentrations during periods of high rainfall and high stream discharge into the Bay. MRSA was more limited to near shore bay locations and only within streams and road runoff. Her results offer important information for predicting the level of pathogens within Hilo Bay and creating models to inform the public of potentially impaired water quality conditions.

    Hart and Economy have aptly demonstrated the utility of this stakeholder-driven project method, showing that a strong connection between the research and manager communities can produce important cutting-edge information in the form of practical tools for applying to climate change adaptation efforts.