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A scenic view from American Samoa illustrates the vulnerability of low-lying coastal communities. (Photo credit: Carla Baizeau)

A new interactive sea-level rise viewer for the Territory of American Samoa was released to the public, enabling the community to visualize how the shoreline is likely to change from coastal flooding, sea-level rise, hurricane storm surge and high tides.

The visualization tool will be an essential component in future planning to assess the short and long-term impacts of rising seas and to minimize the risks to coastal communities, infrastructure and the environment.

A partnership of organizations at the University of Hawaiʻi developed the American Samoa Sea Level Rise Viewer over the course of two years, with the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS) preparing the platform for the UH Sea Level Center (UHSLC) using funding from the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC) and local extension facilitation from Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program (Hawaiʻi Sea Grant).

two people speaking
Kelley Anderson Tagarino and Carla Baizeau present the new American Samoa sea-level rise viewer.

While there are other sea-level rise viewers throughout the continental U.S. and Hawaiʻi, this mapping tool is of particular importance to American Samoa. Local sea levels have been rising from climate change effects at rates 2.8 times faster than the global average. Beyond that, ever since a devastating 2009 earthquake and tsunami, American Samoa has been actively sinking. This sinking, called subsidence, contributes even more relative change in water levels, with estimates suggesting roughly twice as much total sea-level rise, for these islands, by 2060 than what is predicted from climate effects alone.

Kelley Anderson Tagarino, Hawaiʻi Sea Grant extension agent based at the American Samoa Community College, along with local colleagues began to notice a distinct increase of sea levels in tide gauge data, beginning at the time of the 2009 earthquake. She ultimately created a partnership to develop an interactive tool demonstrating sea-level rise projections, engaging Phil Thompson, director of UHSLC, and his PI-CASC graduate scholar Carla Baizeau and the PacIOOS team.

Tagarino said, “I sought funding for a sea-level rise viewer to empower our community to plan for our future. Now, everyone can use the viewer to zoom in to specific areas and even individual homes, which is critical to developing resilience plans at the village level.”

The sea-level rise viewer is already being used to inform the design of the new Pago Pago airport terminal buildings.

Threatening natural, cultural resources

showing students the sea-level rise viewer on the computer
Kelley Anderson Tagarino shows the new viewer to students at the American Samoa conference.

Beyond critical infrastructure, the high rates of sea-level rise also threaten natural and cultural resources, agriculture, water resources, critical habitat and much more.

Alphina Liusamoa, a turtle biologist with the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, is thrilled to find areas with important ecological zones included, like sea turtle nesting beaches on outer islands. “This is incredibly valuable as it allows us to comprehensively assess the risk of rising sea levels to these important nesting habitats. The tool’s interactive nature provides a valuable opportunity for education and outreach, and it can assist us in implementing conservation measures to protect these fragile ecosystems.”

Baizeau traveled from Hawaiʻi to join Tagarino and present the sea-level rise viewer to community leaders and other officials throughout the territory, and at Amerika Samoa’s 2nd Annual Disaster Resilience Summit in September.

“I was lucky enough to go to American Samoa and meet with the village chiefs and students,” said Baizeau. “Everyone was very interested in learning how to use the viewer so they can start planning for their future. It has been really gratifying to be part of this project, and I hope to continue to improve on the work we’ve started.”

Future plans for the tool include adding the effects of wind and wave activity.

For more information, contact: Kelley Anderson Tagarino (; Cindy Knapman (; Rachel Lentz ( or

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