Sharla Stevenson, M.S.

Precipitation and Temperature Changes and Their Effect on Groundwater along the Kona Coast of Hawai'i

M.S. (ESS-Watershed Science) 2015 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA 80523-1476
B.S. (Agriculture) 1981 Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843

Stevenson, S.A., 2015. Precipitation and Temperature Changes and Their Effect on Groundwater along the Kona Coast of Hawai'i. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Watershed Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 66pp + 7 appendix (149pages total).


Water resources are an important part of the Hawaiian cultural tradition, and a shift to a warmer, dryer climate may initiate physical and biological changes that would inhibit the practice of Native Hawaiian cultural traditions by altering the coastal ecosystem resources such as those found within Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. The high degree of spatial heterogeneity and numerous microclimates on the Island of Hawai'i motivated an in-depth analysis of changes in precipitation and temperature occurring during the time since the park was established in 1978 up to the year 2010 at stations located within the regional recharge area for the Kona aquifer system. The potential long-term implications of changes in climate to groundwater recharge were also modeled using stochastic techniques.

A statistical analysis was conducted on annual, winter, and summer precipitation and minimum and maximum temperature climate records using the Mann-Kendall test to detect the presence of a monotonic increasing or decreasing trend at significance levels of alpha = 0.1, 0.05, 0.01, and 0.001. The similarities and differences between station records were further evaluated by a double mass analysis of the same precipitation datasets. The changes identified during trend analysis were used to create synthetic realizations of temperature and rainfall patterns 50 years into the future using stochastic modeling techniques. The future realizations were analyzed to evaluate changes in net precipitation and the potential effect on groundwater recharge.

Within the Kona aquifer recharge area there is evidence of diverse changes in rainfall that have taken place over recent decades. Thirteen out of 15 stations evaluated for changes in rainfall have decreasing trends during the 1978 to 2010 time period and over their entire observation record. Decreases in annual rainfall range from 30mm to 250mm per decade with the majority of declines occurring in the summer season. Almost half of the stations had significant changes in rainfall during the summer season, but none of the changes in winter rainfall were significant. The trends displayed in both rainfall and temperature when modeled 50 years into the future indicate declines in net precipitation ranging from 6 to 48% compared to the modeled stationary 50 year mean. All of the modeled scenarios indicated a decline in the number of days with rainfall for all of the locations with the decline resulting in four locations having a season with no rainfall at all. Large declines in modeled net precipitation such as these would affect the overall amount of recharge to the regional aquifer. In an island ecosystem, the constant pressure of saltwater intrusion and the input of freshwater recharge creates a delicate balance of fresh and saline water underground. Any change in net precipitation that affects recharge could disrupt that delicate balance allowing increased saltwater intrusion along the coastline and within the park.

Last update: SRF, 2015-07-13