WAIKIKI, Hawaii (KHON2) — The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Climate Resilience Collaborative said waves hitting Waikiki Beach does not mean that the sand is going away.

The iconic beach actually grows from south swells, contrary to the enormous swells that pound and erode the North Shore.

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“I think people tend to associate swells with beach erosion,” said Climate Resilience Collaborative geospatial analyst Kristian McDonald. “People think of sort of the North Shore of Oahu with these large swells taking large amounts of sand off of the beach.”

“However, in this case in Waikiki beach, those south swells were associated with an accretion, or a building of the beach.”

Kristian McDonald, Climate Resilience Collaborative geospatial analyst

Geospatial analysts were able to cut down what used to be an 8-hour day of ground work through the use of consumer-grade drones.

“Drones, we can do the same amount of work in an hour and it allows us to conduct surveys with greater frequency and just reveal changes on the beach that we wouldn’t otherwise see,” McDonald said.

“You can measure things like the volume and the beach slope and the beach width and get really a lot of detail out of it,” said Climate Resilience Collaborative geospatial analyst Anna Mickkelsen.

Anna Mikkelsen’s two-year study did not find a clear seasonal signal — which means the time of year did not play into whether Waikiki Beach was growing or eroding.

Mikkelsen said what is clear is that south swells add sand to the beach.

“When water levels are higher and there’s the regular trade wind waves, then there is actually more erosion occurring than just during regular conditions,” Mikkelsen said.

KHON2 asked McDonald, “Is it fair to say south swells push up on Waikiki from the bottom, leading to more sand being deposited? But then, trade swells are more east to west and there is nothing being pushed up?”

He replied, “You’ve got it, yeah. That’s the general idea.”

The Climate Resilience Collaborative is currently collecting data from all around Oahu to learn more about how the coastlines are changing.

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“We can provide this data to coastal managers, to policymakers so that they can better manage this beach into the future, especially in the context of climate change and sea level rise,” McDonald said.