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Hawaii and the Ghost of Climate-Change Future

The water is everywhere. For the second time in a month, Hawaii’s coastlines have been swamped by epic tides. The phenomenon, known as a king tide, is actually a convergence of a few different factors: high lunar tides, rising sea levels associated with last year’s strong El Niño and climate change, swirling pockets of ocean eddies, and a robust south swell—that is, big waves rolling onto south-facing shores. King tides happen routinely in the Hawaiian Islands—a few times a year, usually—but this year’s batch have been particularly extreme. Data from federal tide stations around Hawaii show that water levels have been up to six inches above predicted tidal heights since early last year. In April, levels peaked at more than nine inches above predicted tides and broke the record high for any water level around Hawaii since 1905. Scientists say the record is likely to be broken again in 2017. Several Honolulu roadways have been submerged. Beaches have been washed out. Beachfront hotels have canceled shorefront entertainment and readied generators. Property owners living near the coasts were told to move electronics and other valuables up to the second floor of their houses and park their cars elsewhere. People photographed fish swimming down the streets. And all around the islands, small mountains of sand have been deposited in parking lots and other strange places—spots the waves should never reach. For the people of Hawaii, alarm bells are ringing. King tides like this aren’t just a historic anomaly; they’re a sign of what’s to come. “Within a few decades this will be the new normal,” said Chip Fletcher, associate dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi, in a university statement. “Hawaii should consider this a practice run, and reevaluate policies and development practices accordingly.”

Read More: The Atlantic

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