University of Hawaii Innovation Initiative

Every Breath You Take

Research informs our understanding of air quality and water safety

By Jolyn Okimoto Rosa
Pu‘u ‘O‘o Vent

Pu‘u ‘O‘o Vent

Asthmatics and others with breathing sensitivities have a tool to navigate the voggy weather that has plagued us of late. The University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) runs the Vog Measurement and Prediction Project, part of which predicts the vog plume’s movement.

Co-principal investigators Steve Businger and Keith Horton head the vog project. Businger says, “Vog represents a tangible health hazard for those of us in Hawai‘i who are sensitive to it. During vog episodes, every breath can cause distress. For folks who suffer from allergies, emphysema or asthma, having a vog model that forecasts the position of the plume helps them plan their activities to minimize their exposure.”

Good planning depends on good science. Sea-level rise is a longer-term example of this. Seas have been rising for more than 100 years among the Hawaiian Islands, which has caused widespread coastal erosion and worsened the impact of tsunami and flooding during heavy rains. SOEST Associate Dean Charles “Chip” Fletcher says climate change will probably cause an increase in sea-level rise that worsens existing problems and leads to new ones.

Kamoamoa Fissure. Courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Kamoamoa Fissure. Courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

“Our research on sea-level rise is designed to improve our understanding of where, when and how these hazards will materialize,” Fletcher says. “Hopefully, with improved knowledge, our community will take steps to adapt to these impacts most economically, safely and sustainably.” On a daily schedule, Fletcher’s group also maintains the Hawai‘i beach safety web-site that informs beachgoers about high-risk locations.

Projects like these illustrate how the school’s research informs residents’ understanding of natural hazards and affects their daily lives. As SOEST Dean Brian Taylor says, “We are the go-to place for science on such issues in the Hawaiian Islands.”



Because of climate change, sea level is projected to rise 3 feet or more by the end of the century. This map depicts vulnerability to flooding due to sea-level rise. Blue indicates flooding by 4 feet of sea-level rise and yellow shows lands that may be flooded by 4 feet of sea-level rise, but this is uncertain. Buildings are color-coded by vulnerability to sea level based on their elevation. Red buildings are located at modern high tide. Orange buildings are vulnerable to 1 foot of sea-level rise. Yellow buildings are vulnerable to 2 feet of sea-level rise. Green buildings are vulnerable to 3 feet of sea-level rise. Purple buildings are vulnerable to 4 feet of sea-level rise.

SOEST Online:
Vog Measurement and Prediction Project
Sea Level Rise Hawai‘i
Beach Safety Hawai‘i

Related Article:
First climate change textbook available to college students
Scientists uncover startling flood vulnerability
Large number of Hawaii beaches eroding