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Forecasting Beach Loss from Sea-Level Rise on the Island of Kauaʻi

Empirical Projection of Future Shoreline Position and Inundation Due to Sea Level Rise


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The beaches of the Hawaiian Islands attract nearly 9 million visitors each year, who inject around $15.6 billion into the state’s economy and support almost 200,000 jobs. Beyond their economic importance, Hawaiian beaches are also culturally and ecologically valuable. However, climate change driven sea-level rise is causing many beaches to disappear, endangering property, infrastructure, and critical habitats. The goal of this project was to develop a method for forecasting erosion-vulnerable beach areas that could be used in coastal management planning. Researchers focused on the island of Kauaʻi, modeling beach response to rising sea level over the next century and producing maps that provide information about which areas of coastline [...]

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“Erosion on the North Shore - Credit: Dolan Eversole”
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Recent maps of historical shoreline change and vulnerability to flooding due to Sea Level Rise (SLR) are improving understanding of shoreline variability and climate change. However, significant gaps remain in our ability to plan for increasing coastal erosion with expected accelerations in SLR. The goal of this project is to use historical shoreline change data to identify the influence of both 1) sediment supply and 2) rising sea level on shoreline stability. This data will be combined with an engineering model that predicts shoreline erosion with SLR but neglects to account for the role of sediment availability in modulating shoreline position. Under assumed scenarios of SLR a hybrid model will be used that integrates the historical shoreline trends with future (engineering model-based) projections. Although simple in concept, this approach has never been tried before. This study will develop an easily transferable methodology and planning tool that can form the basis of a climate-ready strategy of beach management. Using data and maps produced by the project, decision-makers will be able to prioritize beach conservation efforts, screen permit applications, identify potential future impacts, and increase the resiliency of the current management network of decision-making. By planning for future beach response to SLR, this project will allow for the existing decision-making system to evolve new strategies focused on adaptation to future SLR.

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