Study: Climate change could eliminate snow in Hawaii by end of century

A new study published by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa claims that climate change could make it so that snow in the Aloha State could be eliminated by the end of the century.

The study, titled “Monitoring and Projecting Snow on Hawaii Island” was published last week in the Earth’s Future journal.

For the study, a team of climate modelers led by Chunxi Zhang of the International Pacific Research Center used satellite images to measure recent snow cover patterns on the volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. The researchers then made a climate change model specific to the region to simulate current snowfalls and project future totals based off changing climate patterns.

“We recognized that Hawaiian snow has an aesthetic and recreational value, as well as a cultural significance, for residents and visitors,” Zhang told the University of Hawaii. “So, we decided to examine just what the implications of future climate change would be for future snowfall in Hawaii.”

The results weren’t promising.

The team reported that, at present, the summits of the two volcanoes are covered by snow at least 20 days each year. They predicted that, by 2100, the snow cover on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa will be ten times less than what it is at present, essentially eliminating snow from the Big Island.

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The snow-covered Mauna Loa as seen from the Mauna Kea observatory. Photo: Courtesy Mail_Collector/Flickr

And, as reported by the team, not only would that signal the loss of something aesthetically pleasing, but it would also mean the disappearance of an environmental phenomenon that played a role in traditional Hawaiian culture.

“Snow has played a role in traditional Hawaiian religious beliefs,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion of their study. “The name ‘Mauna Kea’ means ‘white mountain’ in the Hawaiian language and the upper reaches of Mauna Kea were regarded as the domain of the snow goddess Poli`ahu who could cover the summit with her beautiful white mantle.”

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Mauna Kea currently sees about 20 days of snow coverage each year. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Smith/Flickr

“Future generations may need an explanation for the name Mauna Kea,” the researchers continued. “Just as for the famous ‘snows of Kilimanjaro’ we can anticipate that the iconic view of snow on Hawaii’s mountains will fall prey to anthropogenic global change.”

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