Sea Change: Detailing Warming, Rising Impacts on California

Current climate trends are showing the rate of temperature increase over the last 50 years has been faster than similar periods in the last 28,000 years.

“Samples like this of the King Tide we see here, on the Embarcadero are a preview of the future in terms of sea level rise interacting with storms,” said USGS Coastal Geologist Patrick Barnard, speaking at the Operation Sierra Storm Weather and Climate Conference at Lake Tahoe.

“Sometimes sea level rise can occur quickly,” Barnard added “125,000 years ago the global temperatures were two degrees warmer than today and sea level was about eight meters higher.”

Current expectations are for a 1-to-3-ft sea level rise to 2100. The importance of sea level rising affecting millions is especially important for California, Barnard said. 

“Studies have shown a 20-30 cm could have major implications for Bay Area storms,” he says. “More frequent and damaging storm events would become more likely.”

Based on current trends projections for 2050 in California:

-- Seventy-seven percent more land flooded

-- Four times the population at risk

-- Four times the property at risk ($32 billion)

Shoreline shift is part of the natural geologic process due to weather/wave interaction. As sea levels continue rising, many of today’s current beach areas are at risk.

Coastal surges from stronger storms would become more damaging, similar to what was experienced in the recent major storm that impacted the Northeast, says Keith Stellman NWS Atlanta Meteorologist. The mix of saltwater and flooding debris impacting utilities and infrastructure may lead to a $1 billion property loss from the Jan 4th storm.

Barnard says land management policies including dam placement and dredging have reduced sediment supply to maintain existing beach areas where the sand is allowed to migrate more naturally.

“For the nearly 27 million people in CA live in coastal counties, where impacts from more damaging storms and accelerating erosion processes will mean greater challenges ahead."

Contact Us