drought in Marshall Islands
2013 drought in Ailuk Atoll, Marshall Islands. © United Nations Development Program, 2013. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

To assess factors affecting the intensity and duration of droughts in Hawaiʻi and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI), researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology’s International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) secured more than $500,000 from NOAA’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections Program. The funding would also be used to develop seasonal predictions of rainfall, including floods and droughts.

Droughts reduce soil moisture which impacts agriculture and food security; and drought-related heat has caused dry vegetation to ignite grass fires. Historic droughts, for example in 1998 and 2016 in American Samoa, have led to water rationing, emergency shipment of drinking water and health concerns.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation undoubtedly impacts drought conditions, however, during unprecedented persistence of droughts recently, it has become clear there are other factors that require investigation.

During the three years of the award, IPRC senior researcher Hariharasubramanian (Anna) Annamalai, Arun Kumar with the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA, Maryland, and John Marra, director of Climate Services for the Pacific Islands at NOAA, Honolulu, will build on the seasonal predictions of rainfall, floods and droughts in Hawaiʻi and USAPI that they have been working on for more than a decade.

“In consultation with local stakeholders, there is a need in the Insular Pacific to identify precursors to monitor and predict the severity and persistence of droughts,” said Annamalai.

To make this research relevant to communities, the level at which the drought or flooding become noteworthy is based on specific stakeholder-relevant thresholds.

For more see SOEST’s website.

By Marcie Grabowski