UH-Hilo tracks rising sea levels

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The University of Hawaii at Hilo is employing drones to track the impact of rising sea levels on Hawaii Island shores.


The University of Hawaii at Hilo is employing drones to track the impact of rising sea levels on Hawaii Island shores.

Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography and environmental science, said the unmanned aerial vehicles are being used to get a bird’s-eye view and create three-dimensional images of shorelines at Hapuna Beach, Kapoho and Honolii.

“I think we’re at the beginning of some accelerated sea levels here in Hawaii,” he said. “We’ve been actually buffered from noticeable rise for some different reasons, but it seems like rates are starting to pick up and accelerate.”

Perroy, who previously used drones in 2014 over the lava flow that threatened Pahoa, said the research began last summer and is funded for another year.

Graduate student and researcher Rose Hart is working with Perroy on the project.

She said the idea came about following an internship with the Hawaii County Planning Department. Hart said the research could help the county with adjusting shoreline setbacks.

“I’m really hoping from the project the county is able to use some science-based data to better report or manage the coastline in the future,” she said.

Hart said Kapoho is a good example of areas sensitive to changing sea levels.

“It has such a flat, low elevation,” she said. “It has more magnified impacts, especially if rates accelerate as expected.”

Perroy said these surveys are becoming much more affordable because of drones. Previously, a plane would have to be used.


“For us, we simply head out to the site, make sure all the regulations and rules are followed, and simply fly,” he said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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