Pacific RISA (Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments) Program

From L to R: Guam Climate Change Resiliency Commission Vice-Chair Dr. Romina King and Chair Vangie Lujan, Lt. Governor Josh Tenorio, EWC Fellow Dr. Wendy Miles, and EWC Sustained Climate Assessments Specialist Zena Grecni
Lt. Governor Tenorio welcomes Pacific RISA to Guam and praises the new Climate Change Resiliency Commission (Pictured from L to R: Climate Change Resiliency Commission Vice-Chair Dr. Romina King and Chair Vangie Lujan, Lt. Governor Josh Tenorio, EWC Fellow Dr. Wendy Miles, and EWC Sustained Climate Assessments Specialist Zena Grecni). Photo: Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center.


Pacific RISA’s work is conducted through interdisciplinary research and partnerships with local, national, and regional stakeholders. As one of 11 RISA programs sponsored by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific RISA emphasizes the engagement of communities, governments, and businesses in developing effective policies to build resilience in key sectors such as water-resource management, coastal and marine resources, fisheries, agriculture, tourism, disaster management, and public health.

Established with partial support in 2003 and full NOAA funding in 2010, the Pacific RISA program supports communities and research in Hawai‘i, American Sāmoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Objectives of the Pacific RISA program are as follows:

  • Meet critical climate information needs in the Pacific Region through multidisciplinary climate research, assessment, education, and training
  • Provide integrated, locally relevant climate information to decision-makers and communities in the Pacific Region
  • Enhance regional and local capabilities to manage climate risks, build resilience in key sectors, and support sustainable development
  • Promote collaboration among Pacific regional, US national, and international institutions and programs providing climate information products and services

Present projects focus on several themes:

  • Assessing the impacts of predicted climate variability and change throughout Hawai‘i and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands
  • Linking and communicating mid-range projections with end-of-century downscaled projections
  • Conducting stakeholder-inclusive, place-based science to establish sector-relevant decision thresholds
  • Helping decision-makers assign different kinds of value to resources across sectors and islands and choose adaptation strategies

Recent Activities

PIRCA Workshop, Commonwealth of the NOrthern Mariana Islands, July 2019
Participants at a PIRCA workshop in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, July 2019. Photo: Zena Grecni.

The Pacific RISA team led writing of the chapter on Hawai‘i and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands in Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Released in November 2018, this is the most significant US report to assess the effects of climate change on the US economy and communities. Strained freshwater supplies, damaged and compromised coastal infrastructure, coral reef death, and greater stresses on native biodiversity and species are major concerns and challenges detailed in the Hawai‘i-Pacific Islands chapter of the report.

Through the collaborative Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment and the sustained US National Climate Assessment process, Pacific RISA co-developed jurisdictional-level climate science summaries, four of which have been published so far—for Palau, Guam, the CNMI, and American Sāmoa. Working in close collaboration with regional partners, Sustained Climate Assessment Specialist Zena Grecni and East-West Center Fellow Victoria Keener held workshops in the US Affiliated Pacific Islands to gather input from sectoral experts on how climate variability and change is affecting local communities, ecosystems, fisheries, health, agriculture, disaster management, infrastructure planning, cultural resources, tourism, and the economy.

Recent activities in Hawai‘i include creating experimental seasonal climate projections and an assessment of the effects of future climate change on the quantity and economic value of freshwater resources on Maui and Oahu. In American Sāmoa, researchers have been working with the power authority and local students at the community college to monitor water quality and plan for future climate impacts. In the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Pacific RISA is evaluating the impact of climate change on human migration.

In 2020, East-West Center Fellow Laura Brewington worked closely with the Republic of the Marshall Islands to organize the nation’s first Climate Change and Health Dialog. Dr. Brewington is the Lead PI on NOAA’s International Research and Applications Project for work on “Climate, Health, and Migration in Pacific Islands.” This project serves migrant communities from the Republic of the Marshall Islands and inform health professionals, policymakers, and community organizations in sending and receiving locations about the climate-related health risks that migrants may be experiencing now or may face in the future.

Fellow Victoria Keener serves on the City and County of Honolulu Climate Change Commission, participating in monthly meetings and working groups. In July 2018, Honolulu Mayor Caldwell issued a citywide directive on climate change and sea-level rise based on a report from the Commission that included nine policy recommendations.

Dr. Brewington continues to serve on the Pacific Invasives Partnership, which promotes coordinated planning and assistance from regional and international agencies to meet the invasive species management needs of the countries and territories of the Pacific. In 2018, Dr. Brewington co-convened the Partnership’s annual meeting in New Zealand, which examined the impacts of climate change on invasive species movements and establishment, with the goal of updating the Regional Biosecurity Plan for Micronesia and Hawai‘i.

Collaborating scholars

  • Hariharasubramanian Annamalai, Senior Researcher, International Pacific Research Center, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai‘i
  • Maxine Burkett, Associate Professor, Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i
  • Aly El-Kadi, Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics; Associate Director, Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawai‘i
  • Thomas Giambelluca, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Hawai‘i
  • John J. Marra, Director, NOAA NESDIS NCDC Regional Climate Services, Pacific Region
  • Kirsten Oleson, Assistant Professor, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawai‘i

Selected publications

Brewington, Laura, Victoria Keener, and Alan Mair (2019). Simulating land cover change impacts on groundwater recharge under selected climate projections, Maui, Hawaiʻi. Remote Sensing. 11(24): 3048.

Keener, Victoria, David Helweg, Susan Asam, Seema Balwani, Maxine Burkett, Charles Fletcher, Thomas Giambelluca, Zena Grecni, Malia Nobrega-Olivera, Jeffrey Polovina, and Gordon Tribble (2018). Hawaiʻi and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands. In D.R. Reidmiller, C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart, eds. Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment. Volume II.  Washington, DC: U.S. Global Change Research Program, pp. 1242–1308. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH27.

Van der Geest, Kees, Maxine Burkett, Juno Fitzpatrick, Mark Stege and Brittany Wheeler (2019). Marshallese perspectives on migration in the context of climate change. IOM Policy Brief Series. Volume 4. Geneva: International Organization of Migration.

Frazier, Abby, and Laura Brewington (2019). Current changes in alpine ecosystems of Pacific Islands. In Encyclopedia of the World’s Biomes. Amsterdam: Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.11881-0.

Widlansky, Matthew J., H. Annamalai, Stephen B. Gingerich, Curt D. Storlazzi, John J. Marra, Kevin I. Hodges, Barry Choy, and Akio Kitoh (2018). Tropical cyclone projections: Changing climate threats for Pacific Island defense installations. Weather, Climate, and Society. 11(1): 3-15, doi:10.1175/WCAS-D-17-0112.1.

Shuler, Chris, and Aly El-Kadi (2018). Groundwater recharge for Tutuila, American Sāmoa under current and projected climate as estimated with SWB2, a soil water balance model. WRRC Project Completion Report. Honolulu: Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Brewington, Laura, Victoria Keener, Melissa Finucane, and P. Eaton (2017). Participatory scenario planning for climate change adaptation using remote sensing and GIS. In S. Walsh, ed. Remote sensing for societal benefits. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 236-252, doi:

Ferguson, D.B., Melissa L. Finucane, Victoria W. Keener, and G. Owen (2016). Evaluation to advance science policy: Lessons from Pacific RISA and CLIMAS. In Adam S. Parris, Gregg Garfin, Kristin Dow, Ryan Meyer, and Sarah L. Close, eds. Climate in context. West Sussex, England: Wiley.

Wallsgrove, Richard, and Zena Grecni (2016). Water resources in American Sāmoa: Law and policy opportunities for climate change adaptation. Honolulu: East-West Center.

Zhang, Chunxi, Yuqing Wang, Kevin Hamilton, and Axel Lauer (2016). Dynamical downscaling of the climate for the Hawaiian Islands. Part I: Present-day. Journal of Climate. 29:3027–48.

Helweg, David, Victoria Keener, and Jeff Burgett (2016). Report from the Workshop on Climate Downscaling and its Application in High Hawaiian Islands, September 16-17, 2015. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016-1102. Reston: US Geological Survey. DOI:10.3133/ofr20161102.

Leta, Olkeba Tolessa, Aly I. El-Kadi, Henrietta Dulai, and Kariem A. Ghazal (2016). Assessment of climate change impacts on water balance components of Heeia Watershed in Hawai‘i. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies. 8:182–97.

Corlew, Kati (2015). Disaster and climate change preparedness in American Sāmoa: A handbook for communities. Honolulu: East-West Center.

Annamalai, Hariharasubramanian, Victoria Keener, Matthew Widlansky, and Jan Hafner (2015). El Niño strengthens in the Pacific: Preparing for the impacts of drought. AsiaPacific Issues No. 122. Honolulu: East-West Center.

Corlew, Laura Kati, Victoria Keener, Melissa Finucane, Laura Brewington, and Rachel Nunn-Crichton (2015). Using social network analysis to assess communications and develop networking tools among climate change professionals across the Pacific Islands region. Psychosocial Intervention. doi:10.1016/j.psi.2015.07.004.

Finucane, Melissa, and Victoria Keener (2015). Understanding the climate sensitive decisions and information needs of island communities. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region. DOI: 10.1080/19480881.2015.1021181.

Corlew, Kati (2015). Disaster and climate change preparedness in Maui: A handbook for communities. Honolulu: East-West Center.

Moser, Susanne (2015). Supporting Hawaiʻi's adaptation efforts: The role of the Pacific RISA. Santa Cruz, California: Susanne Moser Research & Consulting.

Brewington, Laura, L. Burgett, A. Poe, and B. Murry (2015). Lessons learned from the island LCCs: Toward best practices to address unique LCD challenges. Washington, DC: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Johnson, Adam G., John A. Engott, and Maoya Bassiouni (2014). Spatially distributed groundwater recharge estimated using a water-budget model for the Island of Maui, Hawai‘'i, 1978–2007. Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5168. Washington, DC: US Geological Survey, 53 pp., DOI: 10.3133/sir20145168.

Keener, Victoria W., John J. Marra, Melissa L. Finucane, Deanna Spooner, and Margaret H. Smith, eds. (2012). Climate change and Pacific islands: Indicators and impacts: Report for the 2012 Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA). Honolulu: Island Press.

Wallsgrove, Richard, and David Penn (2012). Water resources and climate change adaptation in Hawai‘i: Adaptive tools in the current law and policy framework. Honolulu: Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy.

Keener, Victoria W., Scott K. Izuka, and Stephen Anthony (2012). Freshwater and drought on Pacific islands. In Victoria W. Keener, John J. Marra, Melissa L. Finucane, Deanna Spooner, and Margaret H. Smith, eds. Climate change and Pacific islands: Indicators and impacts: Report for the 2012 Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA). Honolulu: Island Press.

Burkett, Maxine (2011). In search of refuge: Pacific Islands, climate-induced migration, and the legal frontier. Asia-Pacific Issues No. 98. Honolulu: East-West Center.

Lauer, Axel, Kevin Hamilton, Yuqing Wang, Vaughan T.J. Phillips, and Ralf Bennartz (2010). The Impact of global warming on marine boundary layer clouds over the Eastern Pacific—A regional model study. Journal of Climate. 23(21): 5844-63.

Zhang, Chunxi, Yuqing Wang, and Kevin Hamilton (2011). Improved representation of boundary layer clouds over the Southeast Pacific in ARW-WRF using a modified Tiedtke cumulus parameterization scheme. Monthly Weather Review. 139:3489–3513.

Finucane, Melissa L. (2009). Why science alone won't solve the climate crisis: Managing climate risks in the Pacific. AsiaPacific Issues No. 89. Honolulu: East-West Center.

See all current East-West Center Research Projects.