Most of Honolulu’s population, infrastructure, and economic activity is concentrated on the Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor coastal area. This low-lying, densely populated area is at high risk of being submerged by sea level rise. 

Earth.Org has mapped what severe coastal flooding could look like in Honolulu by the end of the century.

The 400,000 inhabitants of Honolulu are exposed to flash floods from torrential rain, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Natural tides, which can have amplitudes of up to ten feet in some areas, also cause inundations. The coincidence of high tides and extreme weather events is thankfully rare, but nonetheless devastating as demonstrated by a 1959 hurricane that caused USD $1.8billion in damage. 

Sea level rise is of major concern in Honolulu, as saltwater will contaminate freshwater resources, and the heightened water table will hamper drainage, increasing flood-proneness from lesser events. Seasonal high tides, hurricanes and tsunamis will be able to penetrate further inland, creating sewage overflow and infrastructure damage. 

It is essential for local authorities to first recognize the threat of sea level rise, as they have not yet shown proper consideration of the risks. They can then begin to implement policies and infrastructure for mitigation, such as building elevation. The most difficult but necessary step will be defining the “off-limit zones”, sure to be submerged. The government will need to purchase these zones and relocate communities within them to safer locations. There are many other strategies, and it is up to Hawai’ian officials to propose and execute a plan before it is too late.

Earth.Org has mapped a severe flooding scenario in Honolulu by 2100 if no action is taken. 

sea level rise by 2100 honolulu

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 1m; extreme = 3m). Percentage and total population displacement indicated bottom right.


Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 2m at the end of this century. However, in order to determine local sea level rise (SLR), one has to take into account local coastal flood levels which could be 2.8m above Mean Higher-High Water (MHHW) at extreme forecasts. These local levels bring variability to the projected SLR from 1m to 6.5m (eg. Rio vs Kolkata).

The SLR scenarios used in this study are based on the forecasts from Climate Central – Coastal Risk Screening Tool  with the following parameters:

Sea level Projection Source:

From two highly cited journals by Kopp et al., estimating SLR mainly due to ocean thermal expansion and ice melt. The mid-range scenario projected 0.5-1.2m of SLR based on different representative concentration pathways (RCP) defined by the IPCC. While the pessimistic scenario added more mechanisms of ice-sheet melting, estimating SLR at 1m-2.5m in 2100, with a projection of 10m SLR at 2300.

Coastal Flooding

More frequent coastal flooding is a direct impact of sea-level rise. Based on the Global tides and surge reanalysis by Muis et al., (2016), it is estimated that the extreme coastal water level could be from 0.2 – 2.8m over the mean level. While in extreme cases like China and the Netherlands it could experience 5-10m of extreme sea levels. Here, the coastal local flood level is added on top of the projected SLR.

Pollution Scenario:

Allows choosing the RCP, the greenhouse gas concentration trajectory defined by the IPCC.  The mild level is based on RCP4.5, of 2°C temperature rise; while the Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.


Applies to the baseline SLR, defined in the “Sea level projection” section, upon which we add flooding. “Mild” refers to the mid-range scenario of 0.5-1.2m, and “extreme” to the pessimistic scenario of 1-2.5m. We used the high-end value of each scenario (mild = 1m; extreme = 2.5m).

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