The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the California Coast

Matthew Heberger, Heather Cooley, Pablo Herrera, Peter H. Gleick, and Eli Moore
Created: 5/29/2009 -


Over the past century, sea level has risen nearly eight inches along the California coast, and general circulation model scenarios suggest very substantial increases in sea level as a significant impact of climate change over the coming century. This study includes a detailed analysis of the current population, infrastructure, and property at risk from projected sea‐level rise if no actions are taken to protect the coast. The sea‐level rise scenario was developed by the State of California from medium to high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but does not reflect the worst‐case sea‐level rise that could occur. We also evaluate the cost of building structural measures to reduce that risk. If development continues in the areas at risk, all of these estimates will rise. No matter what policies are implemented in the future, sea‐level rise will inevitably change the character of the California coast.Large sections of the Pacific coast are not vulnerable to flooding, but are highly susceptible to erosion. We estimate that a 1.4 meter sea‐level rise will accelerate erosion, resulting in a loss of 41 square miles (over 26,000 acres) of California’s coast by 2100. A total of 14,000 people currently live in the area at risk of future erosion. Additionally, significant transportationrelated infrastructure and property are vulnerable to erosion. Statewide flood risk exceeds erosion risk, but in some counties and localities, coastal erosion poses a greater risk. This report also provides a comprehensive set of recommendations and strategies for adapting to sea level rise.

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Our aim is to find real-world solutions to problems like water shortages, habitat destruction, global warming, and environmental injustice. Based in Oakland, California, we conduct research, publish reports, recommend solutions, and work with decision makers, advocacy groups, and the public to change policy.

The Council was created pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA), which was signed into law in 2004 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The OPC is guided by principles included in COPA:


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