Tag Archives: Sea level rise

A key part of Antarctica is doomed to slow collapse

No matter how much the world cuts back on carbon emissions, a key and sizable chunk of Antarctica is essentially doomed to an “unavoidable” melt, a new study finds.

Associated Press, by Seth Borenstein, AP video produced by Teresa de Miguel, October 23, 2023

No matter how much the world cuts back on carbon emissions, a key and sizable chunk of Antarctica is essentially doomed to an “unavoidable” melt, a new study found.

Though the full melt will take hundreds of years, slowly adding nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) to sea levels, it will be enough to reshape where and how people live in the future, the study’s lead author said.

Researchers used computer simulations to calculate future melting of protective ice shelves jutting over Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea in western Antarctica. The study in Monday’s journal Nature Climate Change found even if future warming was limited to just a few tenths of a degree more – an international goal that many scientists say is unlikely to be met – it would have “limited power to prevent ocean warming that could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

“Our main question here was: How much control do we still have over ice shelf melting? How much melting can still be prevented by reducing emissions?” said study lead author Kaitlin Naughten, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey. “Unfortunately, it’s not great news. Our simulations suggest that we are now committed to the rapid increase in the rate of ocean warming and ice shelf melting over the rest of the century.”

While past studies have talked about how dire the situation is, Naughten was the first to use computer simulations to study the key melting component of warm water melting ice from below, and the work looked at four different scenarios for how much carbon dioxide the world pumps into the atmosphere. In each case, ocean warming was just too much for this section of the ice sheet to survive, the study found.

Naughten looked at melting gatekeeper ice shelves, which float over the ocean in this area of Antarctica that is already below sea level. Once these ice shelves melt, there’s nothing to stop the glaciers behind them from flowing into the sea.

Naughten specifically looked at what would happen if somehow future warming was limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over mid-19th century levels — the international goal — and found the runaway melting process anyway. The world has already warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius (nearly 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times and much of this summer temporarily shot past the 1.5 mark.

This undated image provided by British Antarctic Survey, shows the North Cove, in Antarctic. (Michael Shortt/British Antarctic Survey via AP)

Naughten’s study concentrated on the part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that is most at risk from melting from below, near the Amundsen Sea. It includes the massive Thwaites ice shelf that is melting so fast it got the nickname “the Doomsday Glacier.” West Antarctica is only one-tenth of the southern continent but is more unstable than the larger eastern side.

That part of Antarctica “is doomed,” said University of California Irvine ice scientist Eric Rignot, who wasn’t part of the study. “The damage has already been done.”

University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos, who also wasn’t part of the study, said this ice sheet “eventually is going to collapse. It’s not a happy conclusion and it is one that I’m only saying reluctantly.”

Naughten doesn’t like to use the word “doomed,” because she said 100 years from now the world might not just stop but reverse carbon levels in the air and global warming. But she said what’s happening now on the ground is a slow collapse that can’t be stopped, at least not in this century.

“I think it’s unavoidable that some of this area is lost. It’s unavoidable that the problem gets worse,” Naughten told The Associated Press. “It isn’t unavoidable that we lose all of it because sea level rise happens over the very long term. I only looked in this study up to 2100. So after 2100, we probably have some control still.’’

No matter what words are used, Naughten said she and other scientists studying the area in previous research conclude that this part of Antarctica “couldn’t be saved or a lot of it couldn’t be saved.”

Naughten’s study did not calculate how much ice would be lost, how much sea level would rise and at what speed. But she estimated that the amount of ice in the area most at risk if it all melted would raise sea levels by about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).

This 2020 photo provided by the British Antarctic Survey shows the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. (David Vaughan/British Antarctic Survey via AP)

However, she said, that is a slow process that would play out through the next few hundred years through the 2300s, 2400s and 2500s.

Naughten said that may seem like a long way away, but noted that if the Victorians of the 1800s had done something to drastically change the shape of our world, we would not look well on them.

This type of sea level rise would be “absolutely devastating” if it happened over 200 years, but if it could be stretched out over 2,000 years, humanity could adapt, Naughten said.

“Coastal communities will either have to build around or be abandoned,” Naughten said.

While this part of Antarctica’s ice sheet is destined to be lost, other vulnerable sections of Earth’s environment can still be saved by reducing heat-trapping emissions so there is reason to still cut back on carbon pollution, Naughten said.

Twila Moon, deputy chief scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center who wasn’t part of the research, said she worries that most people will see nothing but doom and gloom in the research.

“I don’t see a lot of hope,” Naughten said. “But it’s what the science tells me. So that’s what I have to communicate to the world.”

Naughten quoted former NASA scientist Kate Marvel, saying “when it comes to climate change we need courage and not hope. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”

Menacing threat to Vallejo (and Benicia): Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ‘zombie ice’

IMPORTANT OCTOBER 24, 2023 UPDATE: A key part of Antarctica is doomed to slow collapse

Brendan Riley’s Solano Chronicles: Vallejo’s shoreline threatened by zombie ice

Flooding around the old Times-Herald and News-Chronicle building in 1967 on what’s now Curtola Parkway could occur again there and elsewhere in Vallejo without safeguards against predicted sea rise. (Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum files)

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Brendan Riley, September 8, 2022

Efforts to extend the shorelines of Vallejo and now-closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard, just across the Napa River, transformed bay and river waters into thousands of acres of low-lying land. But those efforts that spanned more than a century are threatened by “zombie ice” and other effects of global warming.

A new study, published Aug. 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change, describes part of Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ice sheet as zombie ice because it’s doomed to melt. The study says that by 2100 the melting ice sheet, no longer being replenished by glaciers getting less snow, will raise global sea levels a minimum of 10 inches and possibly as much as 2 ½ feet.

The sea rise from the Greenland ice sheet would be in addition to other Arctic and Antarctic ice melting due to global warming. Other documents, including a National Academy of Sciences report and a current State Sea-Level Rise Action Plan, warn that ice melt from all sources could cause two or more feet of sea rise on the West Coast as early as 2050 and five to six feet of rise by 2100.

Vallejo was part of a 2018 sea-rise study by a group called Resilient by Design. The study included an interactive risk-zone map on the Internet at sealevel.climatecentral.org/maps that shows the impact of rising levels. That easy-to-use link is available to anyone interested in seeing how our area would be impacted by varying amounts of sea rise.

The Resilient by Design link indicates that a foot of sea rise, without new levees, seawalls or other barriers, would flood a large strip of Vallejo’s Riverfront Park, along Wilson Avenue north of Tennessee Street. On Mare Island, part of its southwest tip would be underwater. Flooding also would occur on marshy land to the north, adjacent to State Route 37 and Dutchman Slough; and on SR37 near Black Point, several miles west of Vallejo.

Without protective barriers, a five-foot rise in the tideline would cause temporary or permanent flooding on most of SR37 (Sears Point Road) between Vallejo and Novato to the west. Much of the Mare Island fill land would be affected, including parts of Nimitz Avenue in the shipyard’s historic core.

In Vallejo, a long stretch of Mare Island Way and part of Curtola Parkway could flood. That would affect the municipal marina, Vallejo Yacht Club, a former State Farm Insurance building proposed as a new Police Department, the Ferry Building, Independence Park and the city boat launch area. Many locations to the south also could flood, including the city’s sewage treatment plant, Kiewit Pacific and the old Sperry Mill site.

Those projected flood zones would affect most, if not all, of the Vallejo and Mare Island shorelines that were expanded starting in the 1850s. Old navigation charts show the Navy, which opened its first West Coast shipyard in 1854, quickly filled in a strip of marshland along the river and constructed a seawall or quay where ships could tie up.

Expansion of Mare Island continued for decades, resulting in the shipyard increasing from less than 1,000 acres to its estimated 5,600 acres today. The new land was formed all the way around the island mainly by dredged mud from Mare Island Strait, the renamed stretch of the Napa River between the island and Vallejo, and by fill that was imported or obtained by digging into original higher ground on the island. Some of the new land is designated as marsh or tideland, but at least half of the new acreage has streets and roads and was used for all types of Navy shipyard activity.

On the Vallejo side, expansion into the Mare Island Strait added nearly 500 acres along the waterfront. The projects included one in the early 1900s that filled in a wide section of river that once separated Vallejo from South Vallejo.

The new land was formed by establishing a barrier that ran straight from the city boat ramp area almost to Lemon Street in South Vallejo. Mud dredged from the river on the west side of the barrier, or bulwark, was then pumped into what once had been navigable water and tideland on the other side.

The dredge-and-fill process that began on a large scale in 1913 took several years, creating more land and more direct road links between the two communities. Present-day Sonoma Boulevard between Curtola Parkway and Lemon Street would not exist without this project. The same goes for the sewage plant, Kiewit and many other businesses.

Without all the fill, you could anchor a boat at the present-day location of Anchor Self Storage on Sonoma Boulevard. The river reached what’s now Curtola Parkway on the north, and spread as far east as Fifth Street, where it turned into a marshy connection to Lake Dalwigk. On the south side, the railroad tracks that cross Fifth Street near Solano Avenue once ran along the water’s edge to the old Sperry Mill area.

More acreage was added to Vallejo’s shoreline in the 1940s near the Mare Island causeway, and in the 1960s as part of a massive redevelopment project that resulted in Vallejo’s entire Lower Georgia Street business district being bulldozed. Many longtime Vallejoans can remember walking out on a pier over tideland to board ferries that ran to Mare Island. That tideland is now the seawall area where people can park cars, take a ferryboat to San Francisco, have a drink or dine out, or go for a stroll.

Before redevelopment, the original Vallejo Yacht Club building stood in the same location as the current building – but on pilings over tideland. Much of the fill dirt for this waterfront extension came from Vallejo’s historic York Street Hill – the site of California’s Capitol in 1852 and 1853. The hill was scraped flat and trucked to the nearby riverfront.

In addition to the shoreline work, nearly 500 acres of usable land were formed by levees and fill in a marshy area where Larwin Plaza, now Vallejo Plaza, was built in 1960, along Sonoma Boulevard on the north side of Vallejo. White Slough, which flows into the Napa River, is on the edge of this shopping center. Traces of the marsh once extended nearly to Tennessee Street, several blocks to the south.


One Bay Area city may surrender land to the rising sea

A $900 million plan outlines how Hayward is preparing its sewage plants, natural gas power plant and 1,899 acres of marshes and tidelands for  a rising San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Chronicle, by John King, July 2, 2021
LINKS TO THE SERIES: Mission Creek, Foster City, Hayward

By 2100, we may need to let rising waters cover portions of today’s shoreline, once and for all.

“You’ve got to be forward-thinking,” said Al Mendall, who served on the Hayward City Council from 2012 until December. “As a layperson, it seems obvious to me that we’re going to have to consider some form of retreat at some point. Not just in Hayward, but all around the Bay.”

Before San Francisco Bay’s shoreline was recognized as an irreplaceable resource, it was where cities put garbage dumps, highways and industrial zones. Out of sight, out of mind.

That’s why the west edge of Hayward north of Highway 92 includes two sewage plants and the natural gas power plant that opened in 2013. The white toll booths of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge shimmer in the haze of automobile exhaust. Two stumpy hillocks conceal long-closed dumps.

But there also are 1,800 acres of protected marshes and tidelands, along with the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center built in 1986. Even as new warehouses and research parks are built next to such preserves, populations of species like the snowy plover and salt water harvest mouse continue to increase.

A group of pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month.

Three pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

It’s a juxtaposition that feels oddly timeless, but the placid scene can be deceptive. Already, several times each year, the combination of high tides and strong winds send sheets of water fanning across the trail from the interpretive center. Factor in the likelihood of significant sea level rise and the rare could become commonplace.

Sea level rise is fueled by higher global temperatures that trigger two forces: Warmer water expands oceans while the increased temperatures hasten the melting of glaciers on Antarctica and Greenland and add yet more water to the oceans.

Variations of this forecast — inconvenience followed by upheaval — are found all along the edges of San Francisco Bay. The difference is that Hayward worked out a detailed plan for what might lie ahead.

In February, Hayward’s City Council approved a set of strategies on how to adapt the shoreline zone to what climate change might bring between now and 2070. In some areas, the city would restore marshes or relocate trails. In others, new levees would shield industrial functions that cannot be moved, like the wastewater treatment facility.

John Blanchard/The Chronicle | GIS data from ART Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer, Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, Scape and Hayward Regional Shoreline Adaptation Master Plan

The effort was led by Scape, a New York landscape architecture firm that has been active in sea-level-rise planning since Hurricane Sandy laid waste to coastal New York and New Jersey in 2012.

Unlike some bay settings — such as San Francisco’s heavily developed Mission Creek or Foster City, where a levee already protects homes — Hayward’s shoreline area offers room to maneuver. The area studied by Scape extends 3¼ miles from Highway 92 past the city’s northern border, while extending inland as much as 2 miles, past the power plant and research buildings to modest older homes.

Bicyclists are in the foreground riding along the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In the background the San Francisco skyline is visible amid fog and clouds.
San Francisco rises in the distance as cyclists ride through the Hayward Regional Shoreline last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Scape’s team of designers and engineers was selected in 2018 by the Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, which includes representatives from the city, the East Bay Regional Park District and the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District.

The scale of the area captured the firm’s notice. So did the scale of Hayward’s ambitions.

“Plenty of cities and agencies are beginning to study risks. Hayward is one of the few places taking the next step and trying to offer solutions,” said Gena Wirth, who led the Scape team.

The 244-page plan lays out steps that can be taken in coming decades to stay ahead of the changes that would accompany daily tides 4 feet above current levels. Another 3.3 feet were added to account for the waves that could be triggered by a once-in-a-century storm.

“You want to look for how you can restore natural systems in a way that magnifies the overall benefits,” Werth said. “It’s all about establishing a vision and then breaking it down into bite-size components.”

None of this is easy — or cheap.

The combined price tag for everything in the plan tops $900 million, and there is no funding yet. But the recommendations are split into 26 projects of varying size — the idea being that pilot programs and smaller initiatives can kick off within the next few years, building momentum for larger projects in later decades.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, definitely,” said Erik Pearson, the environmental services manager for Hayward’s Public Works department. “This is something we can use as a guide.”

The approach is applauded by scientists and officials wrestling with the challenge of a future in which the old danger — developers wanting to fill in the bay — is replaced by the need to keep the bay from reclaiming the low-lying lands at its edge.

“The level of sophistication and thoughtfulness is rare,” said Jessica Fain, the head planner of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state agency created in 1967 to watch over the health of the bay. “There’s a range of solutions spelled out, and also a real dedication to pursuing them.”

This includes what potentially is the most controversial solution of all.

After it describes various natural methods to enhance and protect the shoreline, the plan devotes two pages to “managed retreat.” Or as Scape puts it, “a management strategy for retreating from vulnerable coastal areas” and “adapting to sea level rise over time.”

In one design scenario, Scape went so far as to study moving the Interpretive Center from the south end of the area, near Highway 92, to the top of one the hillocks that hide a former dump. Besides protecting the center from flooding, this option “maintains visibility of the structure and offers expansive views of the Bay.”

Al Mendall, who served on Hayward’s City Council from 2012 until last year, has been an advocate for Hayward’s planning efforts along its shoreline. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The final plan doesn’t include this move. But it emphasizes that if sea level rise matches current projections, the relocation of buildings and services “would likely be needed … long-term.”

That topic rarely is discussed, except in coastal areas that routinely flood or suffer dangerous levels of erosion. But Hayward officials inserted it deliberately.

“It’s important to mention that the concept exists” within the larger discussion, Pearson said. “At 4 feet, it doesn’t make sense to look at retreat. But at some point after that, it may be the best approach.”

Experts familiar with bay’s potential reach welcome the willingness of Hayward and the design team to acknowledge this.

“We need to stop thinking, ‘This is going to be here forever,’” said Letitia Grenier. She leads the resilient landscapes program at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, which advised Scape on the Hayward shoreline’s environment. “That’s not the way the world works. We need to learn to live with that.”

Will Travis, who was the executive director of the bay commission when it released its first sea level projections in 2007, has a similar view.

“The hard decisions will be what not to protect,” he said. “How you prioritize where to put your (limited) resources.”

The plan went to Hayward’s City Council on Feb. 16. It passed on a 5-0 vote.

Mendall, the former council member, was excited to see the council act in unison — and with no public opposition.

“We wanted something doable, not pie-in-the-sky,” he said. “It’s a tool for the next generation to preserve and protect the shoreline.”

An aerial view of the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In addition to restored marshes, it includes wastewater storage ponds and a field of solar panels. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle



EDITING – Mark Lundgren

VISUALS – John Blanchard, Carlos Avila Gonzalez,
Guy Wathen, Alex K. Fong, Drawings animated in Mental Canvas


GIS DATA – BCDC (2017). Adapting To Rising Tides Bay Area Sea Level Rise Analysis & Mapping Project: SF Bay [spatial data file]. SF Bay Conservation and Development Commission

Andrés Soto letter: Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

Letter to the editor, The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Note that letters do not appear in the online edition of the Benicia Herald.  Andrés Soto lives in Benicia and is well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for his environmental justice advocacy and his mastery of the saxophone.  I particularly like Andrés’ focus on 19th century historical context.  – RS]

Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

By Andrés Soto, July 23, 2015

Dear Editor:

Andres Soto
Andrés Soto

The recent phenomenon of transporting dangerous, volatile Bakken Crude by rail has created an opportunity for the American people to learn the true motives of Big Oil and Big Rail and what we as impacted communities can do about it.

Continuing derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations have shined the light on the Profit At Any Cost attitude of Big Oil and Big Rail. These industries grew up together in the late 19th century and led to some of the most egregious periods of income inequality, corruption and social conflict in US history.

Now these industries are asking us to trust them and allow them to bring Bomb Trains through our communities, putting our town’s economic viability at risk for a short-term economic gain. Exploding trains all over North America tell us a different story and we are not fooled.

Currently, the Valero Crude By Rail Project and the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo Crude By Rail Project both put our town at risk for a catastrophe. Communities all over the country are standing up to oppose this high risk venture by Big Oil and Big Rail. Recently, the WesPAC Crude By Rail Project in Pittsburg, California removed the rail part of the project to make it a straight pipeline project.

Fracked Bakken Crude and strip mined Alberta Tar Sands Crude are just two of the Extreme Extracted Crude strategies by Big Oil to bring oil to market that would be better left in the ground. An intelligent global cooling plan to save our planet for future generations and all species requires the we leave the oil beneath the soil!.

Valero has already admitted it can and is bringing Extreme Crude in by barge to the Port of Benicia, thus it does not need the Valero Crude By Rail Project to be profitable. Therefore, it begs the question: Why would we, the people of Benicia, allow this project to proceed when it is just too dangerous?

Global warming is going to cause significant parts of Benicia to be underwater. Shouldn’t we be working on preventing that, rather than trying find ways to contribute to the problem?

We are the people of Benicia and our voices need to be heard! The Benicia Planning Commission and the Benicia City Council have a responsibility to listen to us and do what is in the best interests of ALL Benicians. Stop Valero’s Dangerous Crude By rail Project!!!

Andrés Soto
Benicia, CA