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Climate Change On The California Coast

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If you live in the United States, it is likely that you are one of the seventy percent of Americans that believe in and accept climate change. If you live on the California coast, you likely face the impacts of a changing climate every day. Cypress Sell, a 17 year old California native, has lived in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay her entire life. Her mother’s house sits on Miramar beach, right next to the ocean. Her mother and mother’s friends are expert surfers and have been exploring the area for years. Recently, they have noticed dramatic changes to their lifestyle and culture, as well and economic and real estate related issues. Many of her community members are noticing the same issues. Those living on the coast can no longer ignore or deny that their seaside home is increasingly threatened by climate change. Rising sea level, erosion, and storms due to climate change are affecting residents living on the California coast. With many residents living on or near the beach, sea levels are noticeably rising. This affects the California coast with extensive coastal flooding during storms, periodic tidal flooding, and increased coastal erosion. Most of this sea level rising is from the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Future projections predict that sea levels will still be rapidly rising.

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Cypress notes how her favorite beach spots are changing throughout the years. Some ocean coves she used to play around as a child are no longer accessible due to the rising tides. She fears that the shrinking shores will increase in the future, causing her childhood home to be underwater. Along with rising sea levels, rising sea temperatures have also been affecting the coast. Noticeable amounts of red algae have been growing due to rising sea temperatures. Some beach-goers are noticing how the algae affects their health and the fact that it is unpleasant to surf or swim in. Scientists refer to this algae as harmful algal blooms, or HABs. It has been starting to line the beaches of the coast, tinting the ocean red, as well as affecting ecological systems and populations. Not all algal blooms are harmful, but a small percentage can produce powerful toxins.

This toxin can be harmful to shellfish, fish, birds, sea lions, as well as humans. It can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in humans. Although ASP is rare, it can be severe and even fatal. ASP symptoms include headaches, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and vomiting. Severe symptoms include permanent short-term memory loss, seizures, coma and shock. Certain fish and shellfish populations are decreasing due to the algae using up oxygen in the water. When large masses of algae die, their decomposing process can deplete oxygen in the water. Climate change affects marine life not only in regards to red algae, but also when changes in habitats occur, for example, when sea temperatures rise, certain areas of the ocean become less hospitable to species that formerly lived in those areas. Excess atmospheric CO2 also dissolves in seawater, therefore changing lowering ocean pH and changing its chemistry.

Cypress noticed that the decrease in shellfish and fish populations has negatively impacted local fishermen who rely on the ocean to make a living. Moving inland from the ocean, Half Moon Bay is also near a mountain range. There are only two roads in and out of the area, one south straight into Half Moon Bay, and one north through a city called Pacifica. Both of these roads pass through the mountains, where landslides are prevalent. Some residents also live near or in the mountains. Landslides are not caused by a changing climate, but can be exacerbated by it. It is mainly the increasing frequency and intensity of rain storms that influence bedrock stability and trigger landslides. These landslides often block the road in and out of town and can cause major traffic jams. Cypress notes that standard homeowners insurance policies don’t like to cover landslide damage, so they are a big deal in the community.

On the coast, fires are not a common occurrence, but a few hours north, they are taking over. Napa Valley fires have made their way through hundreds of thousands of acres. Residents of California believe that climate change plays a major role in these wildfires, but are not the cause of them. Record hot temperatures continue to hit the San Francisco Bay Area, hitting 106 degrees Fahrenheit in San Francisco and 108 degrees Fahrenheit in San Rafael. Along with droughts, hotter temperatures make wildfires more dangerous and expensive to fight. Another effect of these wildfires is changes in dirt. The composition of soil changes and develops water resistancy. Because of this, the dirt gets swept away instead of absorbing and causes increasingly intense landslides.

Climate change is often pushed aside by many Americans because it is not seen as an urgent problem. However, there are still many communities and families directly affected every day. By connecting with those who feel the consequences of our human actions, perhaps we will feel a greater urgency to make a difference in order to save our planet.

03 December 2019

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