Annual High Wave Flooding: Hawaii: 3.2-ft Sea Level Rise Scenario

Metadata Updated: November 12, 2020

Hawaii is exposed to large waves annually on all open coasts due to its location in the Central North Pacific Ocean. The distance over which waves run-up and wash across the shoreline will increase with sea level rise. As water levels increase, less wave energy will be dissipated through breaking on nearshore reefs and waves will arrive at a higher elevation at the shoreline.

Computer model simulations of future annual high wave flooding were conducted by the University of Hawaii Coastal Geology Group using the XBeach (for eXtreme Beach behavior) numerical model developed by a consortium of research institutions. The model propagates the maximum annually recurring wave, calculated from offshore wave buoy data, over the reef and to the shore along one-dimensional (1D) cross-shore profiles extracted from a 1-meter DEM. Profiles are spaced 20 meters apart along the coast. This approach was used to model the transformation of the wave as it breaks across the reef and includes shallow water wave processes such as wave set-up and overtopping. The IPCC AR5 RCP8.5 sea level rise scenario was used in modeling exposure to annual high wave flooding from sea level rise at 0.5, 1.1, 2.0, and 3.2 feet. This particular layer depicts annual high wave flooding using the 3.2-ft (0.9767-m) sea level rise scenario. While the RCP8.5 predicts that this scenario would be reached by the year 2100, questions remain around the exact timing of sea level rise and recent observations and projections suggest a sooner arrival.

Historical data used to model annual high wave flooding include hourly measurements of significant wave height, peak wave period, and peak wave direction, and was acquired from offshore wave buoy data from PacIOOS. Maximum surface elevation and depth of the annual high wave flooding is calculated from the mean of the five highest modeled water elevations at each model location along each profile. Output from the simulations is interpolated between transects and compiled in a 5-meter map grid. Depth grid cells with values less than 10 centimeters are not included in the impact assessment. This was done to remove very thin layers of water excursions that (1) are beyond the accuracy of the model and (2) might not constitute a significant impact to land and resources when only occurring once annually. Any low-lying flooded areas that are not connected to the ocean are also removed. Annual high wave flood modeling covered wave-exposed coasts with low-lying development on Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. Annual high wave flooding was not available for the islands of Hawaii, Molokai, and Lanai, nor for harbors or other back-reef areas throughout all the islands. Additional studies would be needed to add the annual high wave flooding for those areas. The maximum annually recurring wave parameters (significant wave height, period, direction) were statistically determined using historical wave climate records and do not include potential changes in future wave climate, the effects of storm surge, or less-frequent high wave events (e.g., a 1-in-10 year wave event). In some locations, the extent of flooding modeled was limited by the extent of the 1-meter DEM.

Changes in shoreline location due to coastal erosion are not included in this modeling. As shorelines retreat, annual high wave flooding will reach farther inland along retreating shorelines. Waves are propagated along a "bare earth" DEM which is void of shoreline structures, buildings, and vegetation, and waves are assumed to flow over an impermeable surface. The DEM represents a land surface at one particular time, and may not be representative of the beach shape during the season of most severe wave impact, particularly for highly variable north and west-exposed beaches.

Undesirable artifacts of 1D modeling include over-predicted flooding along some transects with deep, shore-perpendicular indentations in the sea bottom such as nearshore reef channels. The 1D modeling does not account for the presence of nearby shallow reef which refracts and dissipates some of the wave energy traveling through the channel toward the shore. Wave flooding modeling may be improved in future efforts by employing more complex and data-intensive 2D modeling and through local field experiments.

For further information, please see the Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report:

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License: No license information was provided. If this work was prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person's official duties it is considered a U.S. Government Work.

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Metadata Date March 14, 2019
Metadata Created Date November 12, 2020
Metadata Updated Date November 12, 2020
Reference Date(s) December 21, 2017 (creation), December 21, 2017 (issued), March 14, 2019 (revision)
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Additional Metadata

Resource Type Dataset
Metadata Date March 14, 2019
Metadata Created Date November 12, 2020
Metadata Updated Date November 12, 2020
Reference Date(s) December 21, 2017 (creation), December 21, 2017 (issued), March 14, 2019 (revision)
Responsible Party University of Hawaii Coastal Geology Group (CGG) (Point of Contact)
Contact Email
Guid hi_hcgg_all_wave_flood_2100
Access Constraints
Bbox East Long -156.355347039445
Bbox North Lat 22.2305059290235
Bbox South Lat 20.6188666145517
Bbox West Long -159.788135633668
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Frequency Of Update
Graphic Preview Description Sample image.
Graphic Preview File
Metadata Language eng
Metadata Type geospatial
Spatial Data Service Type Open Geospatial Consortium Web Feature Service (WFS)
Spatial Reference System
Spatial Harvester True

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