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Rising Tide of Citizen Scientists is Needed in Hawai?i

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Hawai‘i & Pacific Islands King Tides Project
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Scientists studying sea level rise at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa need your help. Impacts of some of our highest tides of the year are predicted to be seen this week. And the general public is being summoned to document those impacts along the thousand or more miles of coastline across the island chain. HPR reporter Ku?uwehi Hiraishi explains how anyone with a smartphone and coastline access can contribute to science.  

Who among us hasn’t dreamt of making that big scientific contribution or discovery? If that’s you, the Hawai?i and Pacific Islands King Tides Project may be your chance.

GONSER: We’re trying to document these high water level events to give us a snapshot into what could become an everyday occurrence with future sea level rise.

Matt Gonser is with the University of Hawai?i's Sea Grant College Program, and he’s working on recruiting citizen scientists, ordinary folks like you and me, to collect data by snapping photos of what happens when the highest of high tides or King Tides meets sea level rise. Is there flooding? Is there erosion?

MERRIFIELD: What does it actually look like on the ground? 

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Credit Hawai?i & Pacific Islands King Tides Project
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Side-by-side comparison of King Tide impact on the Ala Wai.

Oceanography Professor Mark Merrifield is the Director of the Center for Coastal and Climate Science and Resilience at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa.

MERRIFIELD: How is the beach affected? Is it running up to the road?

Merrifield has studied sea level rise for over 30 years, and says nothing can quite replace first-hand human observation.

MERRIFIELD: We have a very comprehensive system but it’s not everywhere. It would be great to see what the impacts are like across the state, and that’s where the citizen scientists can really help us. 

Last year, Gonser recruited 60 citizen scientists contributing over 500 photos during two King Tide events. But continuous data collection is needed when it comes to observing the combined impact of natural or cyclical changes like King Tides and sea level rise, which Merrifield says is subtle.

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Credit Hawai?i & Pacific Islands King Tides Project
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King Tide impact observed at He'eia Fishpond in K?ne?ohe, O?ahu.

MERRIFIELD: We’re talking about inches of change over decades. It’s not something that you would point out and say that’s sea level rise, and that’s global warming. It’s a little more complicated than that.

According to Merrifield the rate of sea level rise that we’ve been seeing for the last century is going to double and even triple over the next few decades.

MERRIFIELD: And that’s when the awareness of it will be much more abrupt and obvious.

GONSER: The reality is that change is coming and that needs to be a part of the discussion. And that’s what we hope the citizen scientist project can initiate because when you’re out there and you’re experiencing it, you can’t ignore it, it’s real. The inevitability of sea level rise is here and now the discussion moving forward is what can we do about it?

The first King Tides of summer are rising with the new moon tomorrow with impacts to be seen as early as today and lasting through Friday. Project photos and links on how you can get started are available on our website.

For HPR News I am Ku?uwehi Hiraishi.

How to get started as a citizen scientist with the Hawai?i & Pacific Islands King Tides Project?

Download a PDF of the instructions here.

Join Matt Gosner and the project team on Thursday, June 1, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. for a talk on upcoming King Tide citizen scientist photo opportunities. The talk will be recorded and available online.

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