sea level rise


San Francisco Plans for Sea Level Rise

Ocean Beach could be in big trouble without some serious planning

By Jon Brooks

As more warnings go out to coastal communities about rising sea levels, local planners are starting to sharpen their pencils. Hence the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR) is facilitating a coordinated effort among multiple agencies to create a “sustainable long-range plan” for San Francisco’s shoreline. Why do we need a plan? Because erosion of the beach and anticipated rising sea levels may necessitate major changes in the infrastructure that serves the area.

In September, economist Philip King of San Francisco State University unveiled a study aimed at putting estimated price tags on potential economic losses from sea level rise, a study in which San Francisco’s Ocean Beach emerged as a major potential loser. Continue reading

Sea Level Rise Laps at Developers’ Feet


Google Maps image of the Bay Area from Cal-Adapt’s online interactive sea level rise tool.

Developers building on the shore of San Francisco Bay will now have to consider climate change in their plans.

Despite a unanimous vote on Thursday by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), it hasn’t been easy planning process for the state agency that regulates development along the San Francisco Bay shoreline. The state agency approved a first-of-its kind policy that makes sea level rise part of regional planning decisions.

“It’s kind of like childbirth,” said Will Travis, the Executive Director of the commission.

“It wasn’t an easy thing to get done,” he said. “Some didn’t even believe that climate change was happening, and some weren’t aware of the great impact that sea level rise will have the Bay Area.” Continue reading

Rising Seas and Your Wallet

As sea levels rise, so does the economic toll on coastal communities

What happens to the beach economy when the beach is vanishing?

That’s what a new study seeks to answer in some of the most specific terms yet attempted.

The projections are from a team at San Francisco State University led by economist Philip King, who says in the study release that “Sea level rise will send reverberations throughout local and state economies.” He expects those reverberations to come from the effects of temporary flooding, beach and upland (cliffs and dunes) erosion, which King has estimated for five California locations, using sea-rise scenarios ranging from one-to-two-meters (6.5 feet) by the end of the century. Continue reading

Is Your City Planning Ahead?

Flooding along San Francisco's Embarcadero during an extreme high tide in February, 2011.

With little being done at the national and international level to cut carbon emissions and curb the march of climate change, more and more communities and institutions are seriously considering how they will adapt to the environmental changes that lie ahead. 

Sea levels are rising, and in the Bay Area, planners are expecting an increase of nearly five feet by the end of the century.  According to climate models, temperatures across the state are likely to rise between three and seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, leading to increased heat waves and stressing the state’s water supply.

So, are we prepared?  Not really, according to a story today on the public radio program Marketplace.

And yet, as reporter Sarah Gardner explains, there are communities, including some in California, that are taking action now, and investing real money, to protect themselves (and their real estate) from the changes ahead, despite current fiscal challenges.

Rough Waters for Sea Level Rise Planning

Salt ponds in Redwood City where the new Saltworks development is proposed. Photo: Lauren Sommer.

What do Bay Area airports and some big Silicon Valley companies have in common? They sit right on the edge of San Francisco Bay, where sea level rise is expected to have a big impact by the end of the century.

That may seem far in the future, but state agencies are preparing for climate change now by writing new rules for construction along the bay’s shoreline. As you can imagine, developers and environmentalists aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye.

That’s evident on a patch of land at the edge of the bay in Redwood City. For more than a century, it’s been home to one thing: salt. Continue reading

Report: Climate Change Hits Home

Flooding along San Francisco's Embarcadero during an extreme high tide in February. (Photo: Heidi Nutters/Flickr)

Even if the world stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, scientists say, the climate would continue to change, perhaps for centuries, before it stabilized.  Since a zero-emissions world is unlikely, to say the least, and considering that global carbon emissions are continuing on their upward trend, finding ways to adapt to what many see as inevitable is getting more and more attention.

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a local think tank focused on sustainable growth, has just released a 40-page report that outlines the Bay Area’s biggest climate risks and lays out a road map for how communities can start preparing.

The upshot?  We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Continue reading

Australia’s Climate Chief Comes to CA, Urges Action

Melting snow and ice near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last June (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, Tim Flannery, stopped by KQED this morning for an appearance on Forum, the station’s live call-in program.  He spoke about the status of international climate agreements and expressed hope for the process, which is not something I came across very often as a reporter at the UN climate talks in Cancun last December.

“We’re slowly gaining the ability to cooperate globally,” he told KQED’s Michael Krasny. “It’s a race against time, and whether we win or not is an open question.”
Continue reading

Are Rising Seas Returning to the West Coast?

(Photo: Craig Miller)

Researchers say sea levels haven’t been rising along the West Coast of North America for decades, but that could be about to change, according to a new study.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography say they’ve observed changing wind patterns that, if persistent, could soon speed up sea level rise along California’s shores.

Global sea level rise averaged about two millimeters per year throughout much of the 20th century and then accelerated to 3 millimeters per year in the 1990s, said researcher Peter Bromirski.  But along the West Coast, he said, sea levels have been steady since about 1980.

“There are indications that a change is underway,” said Bromirski. Continue reading

Melting Ice Sheets Spur Sea Level Rise

By Michael D. Lemonick

A new study says melting ice sheets will likely be “the dominant contributor to sea level rise in the 21st century.”

A tidewater glacier in Greenland, pictured in 2008. (Photo: Michael Lemonick)

About 110,000 years ago, global sea level began to drop as the planet cooled, and evaporating seawater was transformed into massive ice sheets that covered large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. About 10,000 years ago, the Earth warmed up again. The ice retreated dramatically, and sea level rose. Since then, the planet’s ice, and the level of the ocean have been more or less stable.
Continue reading

Storm Surges and King Tides

Pacific storm makes for some high tides and scary waves on the Bay

Waves slosh on to San Francisco's Embarcadero during Thursday's "king tide" (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Take naturally-occurring extremely high tides, and add to them high winds and torrential rain, and you get some pretty big seas.

At least, that’s what I got out on the San Francisco Bay today.  How big exactly, is hard to say (our uneducated guessed ran the gamut), but they were big enough to wash over the bow of our 26-foot boat on more than one occasion and to keep most of us aboard holding on for dear life for much of the three-hour voyage.   What I can say for sure is that as I type this blog post, four hours later, my body still feels like I’m rolling up and down and back and forth on some stormy seas.

We braved the weather today to check out the latest round of “king tides” and see how they affect low-lying shorelines in places like Crissy Field, Treasure Island, and SFO. The seas were so rough that we didn’t make it all the way to the airport, but we did see waves crashing over the sea wall along the Embarcadero  just south of the Ferry Building (see video below). At Crissy Field, the beach was nearly submerged and a small footbridge near the mouth of the estuary was almost awash. Continue reading