sea level rise


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

NASA’s Closer Look at the Bay Area

Taking global climate models and “downscaling” them for use at the local level is an ongoing challenge for scientists and for planners.  But thanks to new climate projections from NASA, the Bay Area now has a sharper view of what may be in store.

BCDC map showing 16 inches of sea level rise in the SF Bay, which the agency projects will occur by mid-century.

NASA says two-thirds of its facilities are at risk from sea-level rise, including Ames Research Center, which sits at the southern edge of San Francisco Bay.  So, it’s not exactly altruism that motivated the agency to deploy its own scientists to take a closer look at what climate change will really mean on the ground in places where it’s heavily invested. Continue reading

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

Rebuilding a Buffer Against Climate Impacts

Hear our radio feature on wetlands restoration in San Francisco Bay, to be aired Friday afternoon on The California Report.

As my colleague Paul Rogers reported this week, earth has begun to move in the biggest wetlands restoration ever undertaken on the West Coast. This week I took a brief tour of the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, near Hayward.

What is and what will be: Hundreds of acres of salt evaporation ponds, in the background, are being restored to tidal wetlands, as seen in the foreground of this scene from Eden Landing in Hayward. (All photos: Craig Miller)

Scanning much of the scene, “Eden” wasn’t exactly what came to mind. Vast, white expanses of salt and gypsum deposits are more reminiscent of Utah than a bay estuary. These are the remnants of a once booming salt harvesting industry.

But fueled partially by federal stimulus funding, bulldozers and backhoes are now reshaping levees there as part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, which will eventually return 630 acres of abandoned salt flats into tidal wetlands at Eden Landing, and thousands more in an arc around the south end of San Francisco Bay. Continue reading

CA is “Extra Vulnerable” to Climate Change

3115732217_d7901f1545_m.jpgClimate change will most likely affect California more dramatically than it does many other places, according to researchers speaking Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco. The panel featured new research into climate change impacts on sea level rise, agriculture, water evaluation and planning, air pollution, and extreme climate events.

Climate researcher Dan Cayan, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, described California as “extra vulnerable” to climate change and gave a broad (and somewhat scary) overview of the reasons why. The state’s temperature increases are expected to be similar to the global average temperature rise in the coming decades, making for hotter summers with longer heat waves. Given the expected increase in population in California’s interior, longer and harsher heat waves could have significant public health implications.

On top of the more intense summers and milder winters, precipitation across the state may well decrease, especially in Southern California. These drier conditions will be compounded by a significant withering of the Sierra snowpack. Even with a moderate increase in temperature (2 degrees C), Cayan says more than half of the historic California snowpack will disappear by 2100, as the mountains get more rain than snow at higher elevations. That can increase flooding and coupled with expected sea rise over the next century, the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta may be in for some extreme events.

Fortunately, others are looking into sea level rise and what it’s going to mean for the San Francisco Bay Area and the coast of California. Peter Gleick, president and founder of the Pacific Institute, spoke about a new study currently under review focused on the projected impacts of sea level rise, including flooding and erosion, and the potential responses. The study will evaluate flood and erosion potential, create detailed maps of California’s vulnerable areas, estimate risks to populations and structures, anticipate costs of various adaptation strategies, and make policy recommendations. Gleick cited one immediate need as a catalog of the state’s existing levees and their conditions.

The report’s results should be out in February, which is also when we should see the draft version of the first California Adaptation Strategy, which aims to compile information on expected climate change impacts for the state and provide policymakers and resource managers with strategies for addressing them.

When Mitigation Falls Short, Adapt

3042486968_0a474edd83_m.jpgWhile California has plans in place to reduce greenhouse gases, to mitigate the effects of climate change, it is only recently that the local governments have begun thinking about adaptation strategies, according to two reports released today by the PPIC.Preparing California for a Changing Climate” and “Climate Policy at the Local Level: A Survey of California’s Cities and Counties.” Both focus on what is being done currently to confront climate change and where the state and municipalities need to focus adaptation efforts, in order to prepare for future environmental changes.

According to Ellen Hanak, who co-authored both studies, while three out of  four California’s communities are “doing something” related to climate change, only half of that group is looking into adaptation strategies and developing plans for protecting community assets.

“The focus has been on bringing greenhouse gases down,” said Hanak. “Only recently have folks been looking into climate impacts.”

Adaptation is a critical element because even if the world does reduce emissions significantly, Californians still may face problems like sea level rise, increased wildfires and flooding, public health issues related to air quality and increased temperatures because of change that has already been set in motion.  The extent of these problems, of course, will depend on how successful we are with mitigation strategies.  The less successful we are at reducing greenhouse gases, the better we need to be at adapting to change.

Hanak sees the executive order issued by the Governor on Friday requiring state agencies to assess and plan for sea level rise due to climate change, which we blogged last week, as one positive step in this direction.  Because the order mandates an assessment of projected sea level rise, local governments will soon have a benchmark to use for planning their adaptation strategies.

Governor Orders Plan for Rising Seas

Governor Schwarzenegger today issued an executive order (S-13-08) requiring state agencies to assess and plan for rising sea levels caused by climate change.


The order instructs the California Resources Agency, Dept. of Water Resources, Energy Commission and others to come up with a game plan for coping with the risk of encroaching sea water in coastal areas, and gives them two months to convene an “independent panel” to study the problem and make recommendations.

According to the Governor’s order:

“California’s water supply and coastal resources, including valuable natural habitat areas, are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise over the next century and could suffer devastating consequences if adaptive measures are not taken…”

The nation’s oldest continuously operating sea level gauge, located at Fort Point in San Francisco,  logged a seven-inch rise during the last century. Current projections, which combine data from traditional ground-based meters with satellite telemetry, project that with a lax response to climate change, the Pacific could rise three times that much this century.

The order goes out three days before Schwarzenegger hosts a Governors’ Climate Summit in Beverly Hills.