sea level rise

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Coastal Erosion in SF Prompts Planning and Debate

City planners are looking at ways to reconfigure the city’s western edge

Sigma./Flickr

One of the challenges for the Ocean Beach Master Plan is how to slow the erosion of Ocean Beach's sandy cliffs.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is eroding; that’s not up for debate. But planners are still figuring out the best way to handle the erosion that’s already happening, and how to prepare for sea level rise. And that’s going to take a lot of planning: Ocean Beach itself is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service, but there are also the nearby residential neighborhoods to consider; plus the Great Highway, a wastewater treatment plant, the parking lot at the beach, endangered species, surfers, dog walkers and the occasional hopeful sun bather.

The Ocean Beach Bulletin, a local news site and one of KQED’s News Associates, has been covering the development of the new plan for San Francisco’s coastline, called the Ocean Beach Master Plan, which will attempt to address erosion and rising sea levels, while balancing the myriad social and environmental needs.

Over the weekend, the New York Times weighed in, too:

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Are You in Harm’s Way? Rising Seas Increase Flood Risk in California

San Francisco Bay, the Delta and Southern California are most susceptible in the state

Climate Central

Sea level rise compounded with storm surges and high tides could raise the water level by four feet.

Tens of thousands of Californians will be placed at risk in the years to come as sea levels continue rising along the California coast. The official planning parameter for the San Francisco Bay Area acknowledges a potential 16-inch rise by 2050. But with help from high tides and storm surges, it’s not likely to stop there. A new tool from Climate Central maps out which cities, neighborhoods, and even streets, will be most affected.

The state’s Cal-Adapt site offers a similar tool but the East Coast-based science education group, Climate Central has added a new layer: population. According to Climate Central, which is a content partner with Climate Watch, there’s a one-in-six chance that under the right conditions — sea level rise, plus storm surge, plus high tides — the sea could rise four feet by 2030 in the Bay Area. That effects not just the coast, but also cities around the Bay and farther inland, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The cities with the most people at risk are San Mateo, with 35,000 people living in areas that would be flooded under that scenario, and Stockton, with more than 72,000.

In Southern California, the threat is farther off, but by 2060, there’s a one-in-six chance of sea levels topping a four-foot increase with help from a storm surge. If that happens, more than 44,000 people in Huntington Beach would be in harm’s way, and 11,000 in LA.

New List Highlights California’s Birds Most Threatened by Climate Change

Shorebirds, especially, are imperiled by rising seas and habitat loss

Molly Samuel

Birds like the Black Oystercatcher that live along the shoreline are threatened by rising sea levels.

More than one hundred species of California’s birds are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Scientists at the California Department of Fish and Game and PRBO Conservation Science examined nearly 400 species and subspecies for a study, released today. Of those, 128 are at risk.

San Francisco Bay is home to the majority of the most vulnerable birds. “That’s primarily because of sea level rise and also because there are already so many imperiled species that use that habitat in the bay,” says Tom Gardali, an ecologist is PRBO Conservation Science.

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Climate Adaptation and Unintended Consequences

Radio documentary explores the social and economic impacts of adapting to climate change

Rising seas will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a three-part documentary by independent producer Claire Schoen. The final part, “Chuey’s Story,” airs this evening at 8 pm on KQED 88.5 FM.

By Claire Schoen

Jan Sturmann

Chuey Cazares works as a fisherman out of the South Bay town of Alviso. Adapting to climate change may save his town, but it's having unintended consequences for his livelihood.

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: “The human capacity to create technology exceeds our capacity to understand its impact.”

Lots of people have referred to this idea, Einstein perhaps most famously when he said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Splitting the atom certainly brought us the promise of unlimited energy to run industry and military might to protect the world from Hitler. It also brought us a nuclear North Korea and Fukushima.

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Help Document Bay Area High Tides

King tides return to the Bay Area, augmented by a long-awaited winter storm.

Jack Gregg

High tide at Pier 14 in San Francisco during the winter of 2011.

No one knows exactly how much sea level rise the San Francisco Bay Area can expect from climate change, but king tides — extremely high seasonal tides — may give insight into what could be normal in the future.

Starting today and continuing through Sunday, king tides are expected in the morning hours around the Bay Area. Recent rainstorms and the accompanying runoff will likely make these tides even bigger. The California King Tides Initiative is again asking for citizens to document the visual effects of king tides and add them to a Flickr photo pool to help give a perspective on how sea level rise might change local landscapes.

Sea levels have risen about eight inches in the last century and the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC) has warned that the area should be ready for 16 inches of sea level rise by mid-century.

Climate Change and Coastal Communities: Facing the Rising Tide

As the water rises, a documentary maker ponders why people aren’t more concerned

Rising seas will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a three-part documentary by producer Claire Schoen. The second part, “Facing the Rising Tide,” airs this evening at 8 pm on KQED Public Radio.

Opinion by Claire Schoen

Jan Sturmann

Steve Mello's family has been farming this land in the Delta for generations. Climate change may prevent his son from carrying on the family legacy.

I recently dug out an old letter which I had written to my Dad back in 1982. “Have you heard about this thing called Global Warming?” I asked.

Back in the 80’s, I was already aware of what is now referred to as “climate change.” So why is it that so few Americans understand this threat today?

In fact, America is in retreat on the subject. According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who believe the planet is warming dropped by 20 percent from 2006 (79%) to 2010 (59%). “Believe.” As if this scientific phenomenon were a belief system, a question of faith.

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Sounding the Waters: Is the Bay Area Prepared for Sea Level Rise?

A new documentary attempts to find the answer

Sea level rise will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a documentary that starts airing this week on KQED Public Radio. Producer Claire Schoen sets the stage on a personal note.

Jan Sturmann

Climate scientists predict that sea level rise and extreme weather will cause flooding of San Francisco's Financial District by 2050.

By Claire Schoen

“Mom, can you please can it with the climate change lecture  – just for once,” my children complained. At ages 22 and 26, my politically correct, Berkeley-raised kids are well educated in all things scientific and political. But… “Enough already,” they cry.

And I confess that their complaint has some validity: I can bring up the topic of climate change in pretty much any conversation.

But really, what other topic is there?

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NASA: Climate Changes Coming Faster Than We Thought

“If we burn all the fossil fuels, we would send the planet back to an ice-free state.” — James Hansen, NASA

A new investigation of the ancient climate record shows that time to stop climate change is running out — maybe sooner than scientists had thought.

That’s the message from an international team of scientists reporting today at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco (#AGU11 on Twitter).

NASA

Melt water tumbles through a Greenland ice sheet.

James Hansen is director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and was one of the scientists on the study. He says that even the accepted benchmark of a 2-degree Celsius rise (3.6 F) in temperature that might result from doubling of current carbon dioxide levels would have a much greater impact than was previously thought.

“Once the ice sheets begin to disintegrate, then you’ve got an unstable shoreline, which is going to be continuing to change over time,” said Hansen in a presentation to fellow scientists. “It would be a mess for those people living at that time to deal with. And it looks like that time will be this century.” Continue reading

Threatened by Rising Seas, Alaskans Ponder Where to Move

Winning their landmark climate suit against energy companies is just one challenge

Following their appearance in a San Francisco Federal Appeals Court this week, Climate Watch contributor Amy Standen was the only journalist to sit down with members of the Kivalina delegation before their return home.

US Coast Guard / Lt. Cdr. Micheal McNeil

As a group of nine Alaskan natives returns to their coastal village after their day in court, it seems that their plight is about more than getting money to pay for a move to higher ground. It’s an interesting microcosm of the climate conundrum: The past isn’t prologue anymore. History is a faulty crystal ball. How climate change will affect a specific place is anyone’s best guess. And in the case of Kivalina — and likely, many other places — residents’ visions of the future may not line up with those of scientists.

In the past, Kivalina– which lies at the tip of a narrow barrier island off the coast of Alaska – was buffered from storms by a thick layer of ice around its perimeter. But now the ice is melting. Every time a storm hits, many of Kivalina’s 400 residents take shelter in a local elementary school, hoping the waves will spare them. Everyone agrees: The village must relocate. Continue reading

Sea Level Suit Returns to San Francisco Courtroom

Alaskan village blames oil & power companies for rising seas

The coastal hamlet of Kivalina, Alaska, is already known for literally making a federal case out of rising sea levels.

The village of about 400 residents sits exposed on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008, local officials filed a federal lawsuit against about two dozen corporate entities, including ExxonMobil, BP and San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., claiming that coastal erosion was forcing the town to relocate.

US Army Corps. of Engineers

Kivalina appears in the distance, on the tip of this barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

The original case was dismissed — but on Monday, the case lands in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the town’s lawyers will again argue that major oil and power companies are responsible for the threatening rise in sea level, as the result of their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The appearance is timely, as only a week ago a major Arctic storm reportedly caused some damage to the settlement. Continue reading