CLIMATE SCIENCE

CLIMATE IN THE PACIFIC

Unique Setting of Pacific Islands

Because the Pacific Islands region is predominantly composed of vast ocean expanses punctuated only by isolated emergent islands and atolls, Pacific Island ecosystems display unique characteristics. Many species are endemic and often endangered, and interact within rare and threatened native landscapes and seascapes, mere remnants of the original environments. Marine processes are critical factors in the region’s climate systems, and their impacts occur here to a greater degree than in continental regions.

Beyond tropical beaches, geography of Pacific Islands are vastly varied and include both low-lying atolls a few feet above sea level and high islands reaching thousands of feet in elevation. Over-developed, diverse coastal plains, often arid on leeward sides, mix with lush tropical forests to encircle mountainous volcanic terrains with dry or marshy alpine summits. The Hawaiian Islands alone span climatic zones from arctic to tropical and have over 500 flora and fauna species listed in the Endangered Species Act.

The ecological diversity of the Pacific region is rivalled only by its cultural diversity. Thriving indigenous cultures interact with other introduced cultures from across the Pacific and beyond. This diversity, woven into the fabric of every island in the Pacific, creates patchwork communities with significant potential adaptive capacity.

CLIMATE VS. WEATHER

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Climate: interactions of the physical components of the atmosphere over long periods of time (decades to thousands of years), including rain, wind, cloud, and temperature patterns.

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Weather: the state of the atmosphere at a specific place and time regarding heat, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc. over a short period of time (days to weeks).

Climate Science in the Pacific Region

Islands of the Pacific Basin have been some of the first regions to witness the impacts of climate change and their socio-ecological effects.

WEATHER

Shifts in rain belts, winds, storm tracks, and cloud cover have led to increasing temperatures (particularly at higher elevations) and decreasing rain in many areas, causing serious, prolonged droughts; other areas have seen increasing storm and cyclone frequency and intensity.

TEMPERATURE

Increasing sea surface temperatures with shifts in ocean chemistry and increased ocean acidification have generated severe coral bleaching and die-off events, which can leave coastlines less protected from storms.

SEA LEVEL

Increasing global sea levels have caused more frequent coastal erosion and subsequent coastal and groundwater inundation. Salinization events in low-lying agricultural zones have caused substantial risk to local food availability.

Ongoing changes in climate factors have already begun to produce noticeable ecological effects, and these islands with their fragile, distinctive ecosystems require management and care based on the best available science combined with indigenous knowledge and traditions.