Jean-Michel Cousteau on Oceans, Energy, and Our Collective Fate

Explorer keeps his father’s legacy alive by shining a light on the world’s oceans

The California coast near Pigeon Point.

When ocean explorer and documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau brought his environmental message to Silicon Valley, I caught up with him to discuss climate change; President Obama’s energy policy efforts; and AB 32, California’s response to climate change.

Jean-Michel Cousteau is the son of legendary ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau, and chairman of Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit dedicated to exploring, protecting and educating people about the world’s oceans. He was vocal in condemning BP for its Gulf oil spill and has frequently highlighted the link between climate change and the state of our oceans and coastline. Continue reading

Marine Robots Break Record for Journey from SF Bay to Hawai’i

Wave Gliders are collecting data as they travel across the Pacific

"Wave Gliders" use wave energy to move and solar energy to power their scientific instruments.

Four ocean-going robots called Wave Gliders have made their way from San Francisco to the Big Island of Hawai’i, setting a Guinness world record for distance traveled by an unmanned, wave-powered vehicle. They’re not just long-distance voyagers though, they’re also collecting data on ocean conditions and the weather.

Wave Gliders, created by Sunnyvale-based  Liquid Robotics, are about the size and shape of surfboards, but they do more than catch waves. They’re attached to a cable and a set of fins below the surface of the water, which capture wave energy and move the vehicle forward, and they’re equipped with solar panels and scientific instruments. They collect data and send it back via satellite, saving the time and money that go into manned research expeditions.

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Ocean Changes Cause Consternation

Changing climate threatens web of life along California’s coast

The California Current is a conveyor belt for cold water from the north Pacific.

It’s the reason that wetsuits are such big sellers in California. The river of ocean water known as the California Current barges in off the Aleutians, and as it rolls southward along the West Coast, makes for more than bone-chilling body surfing. It supports a robust stew of sea life.

But as Mike Lee reports for The San Diego Union-Tribune, it’s warming up. And that has researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography concerned about future biodiversity off the California coast. Scientists say shellfish are already under attack from acid levels elevated when the ocean is forced to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Continue reading

Photograph High Tides, Glimpse the Future?

High tide at Pier 14 in San Francisco on January 19, 2011 (Photo: Jack Gregg)

This week another round of extremely high tides will hit the California coast, providing a glimpse of what the state can expect as sea levels continue to rise. These “king tides” will roll in from February 16th through the 18th, with the highest swells expected on the morning of the 17th, between 7:30 and 9 a.m.

A consortium of environmental groups is again calling for help documenting these high tides. The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Reserve (NERR), which is spearheading the local effort, has set up a Flickr site where members of public can share their photos.  Organizers launched the site last month, in time for the king tides in January, and since then more than 80 photos have been uploaded by dozens of contributors. Continue reading

Death Rattle of an Iceberg

Iceberg B-15A was 76 miles long and 17 miles wide. (Phot0: Josh Landis, NSF)

I know it’s only January but my vote for the year’s Really Cool Sound Award: A  massive iceberg cracks up.

Occasional Climate Watch contributor Tom Banse reports today for Oregon Pubic Broadcasting about a just-released recording of a massive iceberg cracking, creaking, snapping, and groaning as it broke up in 2005 off the coast of Antarctica.  The recording has been condensed, so that you can listen to the five-hour process in just two minutes.

According to Seeyle Martin, the University of Washington scientist who released the recording, the iceberg was 76 miles long and 17 miles wide — about the size of Puget Sound. It shattered when it hit an underwater shoal.  Martin says the sound was recorded by seismic equipment 700 miles away at the South Pole.

Photos From the Future?

From my vantage point this morning at the edge of San Francisco Bay at China Camp State Park in San Rafael, today’s king tide wasn’t all that dramatic.  There was no flooded road, as I had been told there might be, and there was so little wind that the water level just silently crept higher, about a foot higher than usual, with zero fanfare.

Wednesday's king tide along the Embarcadero in San Francisco (Photo: Noah Knowles)

But I snapped photos anyway, for the Bay Area King Tide Photo Initiative, a project aimed at documenting these extreme high tides in order to identify local areas vulnerable to sea level rise.

Reportedly, things at San Francisco’s Embarcadero, however, were a little more dramatic. USGS scientist Noah Knowles was there to take pictures of yesterday’s king tide.

“There was already water splashing over the sides [of the sea wall] yesterday,” he said.  “This was of course on a very calm day, and clearly there was no storm surge, which could have added another half-meter and had the water up on the streets.”

That’s the thing about sea level rise.  The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC)  advises people to plan for 11-18 inches of sea level rise by mid-century.  That by itself might not cause huge amounts of damage on a normal day, just as today’s extra-high tide didn’t flood the road in China Camp State Park.  What it will do, however, is raise the baseline for what a high tide is, making storm surges more apt to cause destructive flooding.

Just before the king tide at China Camp State Park in San Rafael, CA (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Knowles said that it’s important to raise awareness about what the potential effects of sea level rise could mean for the Bay Area.

“I think it doesn’t always hit home how low-lying so many area around the Bay already are,” said Knowles.

For photos of the king tides around the Bay Area, visit the Bay Area King Tide Photo Initiative on Flickr, or wait for the next one on February 18th and snap your own.

King Tides Could Preview Sea Level Rise

Photo of Distillery Point near Half Moon Bay, a contribution to the King Tide Photo Initiative. (Photo: jsutton8, Flickr)

This week, seasonal high tides, known as “King Tides” will roll into the Bay Area, providing a preview of what the region might face if sea level rises over the coming decades as predicted.

So the organizers of the Bay Area King Tide Photo Initiative want you to grab your camera and help document the tides.  The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) has set up a Flickr site for the photos, where participants can upload their “before, during, and after” shots. Continue reading

So Much for La Niña

Pacific ocean conditions that often portend a dry winter sure haven’t so far.

Scientists like to joke that “climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” The relatively soggy winter so far is a classic example of that.

Satellite image from last weekend, showing storm systems marching across the Pacific toward California. (Image: NASA)

A closely-watched oscillation in the Pacific is in the La Niña phase this winter, creating colder-than-normal surface temperatures and distorting weather patterns. Usually a La Niña means drier-than-normal conditions for Southern California in particular and often for northern parts of the state as well. Not this year–at least not so far. The rain set multiple records over the weekend. Los Angeles has had a third of its average annual rainfall in a week. So what’s going on? Continue reading

Chu Tones it Down for Cancun

Energy Secretary takes the cautious route in Cancun; just part of the sideshow at COP16.

US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu appeared to pull some punches while speaking at the US Center in Cancun on Monday. (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

The UN climate negotiations in Cancun may be the official attraction, but in many ways, there’s just as much happening at the “side events” here at COP16.  There are dozens everyday — last week there were more than 150, and that number is increasing this week as more people arrive for the final days of the talks.  While the negotiations are limited to representatives from national governments, the side events provide a stage for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, business leaders, and local and regional government officials, many of them, it turns out, from California. Continue reading

Center to Study Climate Impacts on Ocean

Federal officials this week launched a new climate change research center, designed to be a hub for studies on the impacts of climate change on the San Francisco Bay and coastline.

The tidal gauge off of San Francisco's Fort Point is the oldest in North America.

The Ocean Climate Center is housed in a collection of century-old military buildings on the edge of the Bay at Crissy Field. It couldn’t be a more picturesque — and critical — location. Adjacent to the oldest tidal gauge in North America, the center will allow cash-strapped federal agencies to pool resources into climate change research and work with natural resource managers to combat negative impacts on the marine ecosystem and communities along the coastline. Continue reading