Pacific RISA (Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments) Program


 Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (Pacific RISA) program in the field
East-West Center Fellow Victoria Keener helps weed taro as she interviews local farmers in Hawaii.

The East-West Center’s Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (Pacific RISA) program helps communities in Hawai‘i and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands adapt to a changing climate.

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.

The Pacific RISA program was awarded a second five-year research grant from NOAA to support Phase-3 projects and research, beginning on 1 September 2015. Phase-3 projects focus on several themes:

  • Assessing the impact 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

The grant designates sustained support for communities and research in Hawai‘i, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and American Sāmoa.

Specific Phase-3 projects include:

  • Dynamical seasonal prediction of precipitation in the Hawaiian Islands
  • Comparative analysis of statistical and dynamical downscaling projections
  • Use of climate data to estimate recharge and sustainability of freshwater resources in American Sāmoa and Hawai‘i
  • Assessment of the economic impacts of climate change on Maui
  • Analysis of regional policies for climate adaptation
  • Analysis of the causes and impacts of climate-induced migration in the Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Both internal and external program evaluation

Recent Activities

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.

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 the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Pacific RISA is evaluating the impact of climate change on human migration. In American Sāmoa, researchers are working with the power authority and local students at the community college to monitor water quality and plan for future climate impacts.

The project team recently received funding from NOAA’s International Research and Applications Project for work on “Climate, Health, and Migration in Pacific Islands.” This project will serve 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.

In June 2018, East-West Center Fellow Laura Brewington co-convened the annual Pacific Invasives Partnership meeting in Wellington, New Zealand. The Partnership 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. This year’s meeting focused on 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 and preparing applications for international funding to provide training and infrastructure upgrades for new and existing port facilities.

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.

Project Specialist Zena Grecni made a presentation at a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop in Washington, D.C. in August 2018. Her presentation described the unique challenges of leading climate assessments in Hawai‘i and the US Affiliated Pacific Islands Region and how those challenges have been addressed through the collaborative Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment and the sustained US National Climate Assessment process.

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

Annamalai, Hariharasubramanian, Victoria Keener, Matther J. 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.

Brewington, Laura, Victoria Keener, Melissa Finucane, and P. Eaton (2016). Participatory scenario planning for climate change adaptation using remote sensing and GIS. In S.J. Walsh (ed). Remote sensing for societal benefits. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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

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

Corlew, Laura Kate, 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.

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.

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.

Finucane, Melissa L., and Victoria W. 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.

Helweg, David A., Victoria Keener, and Jeff M. 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.

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. US Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5168, 53 pp., DOI: 10.3133/sir20145168.

Keener, Victoria W., David A. Helweg, Susan Asam, Seema Balwani, Maxine Burkett, Charles Fletcher, Thomas Giambelluca, Zena Grecni, Malia Nobrega-Olivera, Jeffrey J. Polovina and Gordon Tribble (2018 in press). Hawai‘i and US-affiliated Pacific Islands. Chapter 27 in The Fourth National Climate Assessment. Washington, DC: U.S. Global Change Research Program.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

See all current East-West Center Research Projects.