Climate Change | Sea Level Rise | Ocean Acidification

September 8, 2023

Partial Pier Failure at Concrete Ship © 2023 Kim Steinhardt

In the face of sea level rise, can we reimagine California’s vanishing coastline? – the Los Angeles Times

Excerpted from “California Against the Sea: Visions for Our Vanishing Coastline” (available Sept. 26, 2023) by Rosanna Xia. Reprinted in the Los Angeles Times with permission from Heyday Books, © 2023.

The sea has long inspired a human attraction, perhaps even a compulsion, to be as close to the edge as possible. Its sheer power captivates us, even on its most turbulent days, and we can’t help but dream of calling the shore our own. To be out by the surf, to sense the very limits of where land can go, to feel the rise and fall of each wave like our own breath is to reckon with a force so alive it feels otherworldly. But the ocean is not “out there” beyond the shore, it is upon us, carving away at the coast each day despite our best efforts to keep the water at bay. We thought that with enough ingenuity we could contain the sea, but the rising tide is proving otherwise.

Studying this confluence of land, people and sea has kept Gary Griggs busy for much of his life. Seventy-six years old, with a shock of white hair and a long stride, Griggs has spent decades examining every inch of the California coast. An oceanographer, coastal geologist and longtime professor at UC Santa Cruz, he has a way of explaining erosion with the excitement of someone who’s seeing everything for the first time. The coast is always, has always been, changing, he likes to say. Every high and low tide brings new surprises.

On a quiet foggy morning in early March 2020, the tide was going out when Griggs set off for a stroll in Capitola. Reminiscent of an idyllic village on the Mediterranean, with pops of vintage California, this colorful little beach town on the northeast shore of Monterey Bay amuses him every time he swings by. The buildings and shingled cottages are bright pastel, the waterfront dotted with cafes and patio umbrellas. Palm trees and art galleries line the streets downtown, where tourists stop for trinkets and ice cream. On an old wooden wharf that juts 800-some feet into the water, kayakers can step from a tiny dock and paddle out to sea.

Griggs made his way to a set of townhouses that had been planted right on the sand, reportedly one of the first condominium complexes to have been built on the coast. Purple, pink and teal, with whimsical rococo plasterwork, the Venetian Court homes are an indelible snapshot of 1920s California. Steps from the wharf, they serve mostly as private vacation rentals today. A low concrete seawall — so low you could sit on it — is all that holds back the sea…

Image at Top: Partial Pier Failure at Concrete Ship © 2023 Kim Steinhardt

“Just as the coast defines the liminal world between land and sea, so too does Rosanna Xia’s remarkable book exist in the overlap between development and erosion, between geological forces and human desire, between our ambitious past and our tenuous future. It’s viscerally urgent, thoroughly reported, and compellingly written—a must-read for our uncertain times.”

– Ed Yong, author of An Immense World

“In the midst of the climate crisis, can the people of California treat the rising Pacific Ocean as something other than an adversary? In California Against the Sea, Rosanna Xia argues persuasively that such a transformation is not only possible but already underway, inspired by lessons from deep history and the recent past. Rigorously reported and beautifully written, this book is a crucial guide to the future.”

Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

“Fans of Xia’s work for the L.A. Times will recognize her virtuosic blend of propulsive boots-on-the-ground storytelling, explanatory reporting, and genuine curiosity and love for place. A profound and timely exploration of humanity’s various and shifting relationships to coastlines and the forces that shape them by one of the great environmental reporters working today.”

– Lisa Wells, author of Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World

Also read an earlier comprehensive article by Rosanna Xi that is a precursor of the book:

The California coast is disappearing under the rising sea. Our choices are grim”


More on Climate Change | Sea Level Rise . . .

Sunset at South Jetty after Hurricane Idalia (by Rudy Wilms CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

Hurricane Idalia’s Explosive Power Comes from Abnormally Hot Oceans – the New Yorker

Of all the astonishing facts about our blithe remaking of the world’s climate system, the most astonishing might be this: if oceans didn’t cover seventy per cent of our planet, we would have increased the average temperature to about a hundred and twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because those oceans have absorbed something like ninety-three per cent of the extra heat trapped by the greenhouse effect and our burning of fossil fuels…

Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2022 Student Action Summit at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida (by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr).

DeSantis’s Florida Approves Climate-Denial Videos in Schools – Scientific American

Florida’s Department of Education has approved classroom use of videos that spout climate disinformation and distort climate science

Climate activists are like Nazis.

Wind and solar power pollute the Earth and make life miserable.

Recent global and local heat records reflect natural temperature cycles.
These are some of the themes of children’s videos produced by an influential conservative advocacy group…

Zeeland, Netherlands as seen from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission (courtesy of by the European Space Agency, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO via

Is this ‘age of the delta’ coming to an end? – Knowable Magazine

The land near the mouth of the Mississippi River is barely land at all. Muddy water forks into a labyrinth of pathways through a seemingly endless expanse of electric-green marsh grass, below skies thick with birds. Shrimp and crabs wriggle in the water below, and oak and cypress sprout from wet soils on higher grounds. Stretching for more than a hundred miles along the coast of Louisiana, this is one of the world’s largest, and most famous, river deltas…

The Thames barrier closure 8.15am Sunday 6 October 2013(by Chris Wheal CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Before the flood: how much longer will the Thames Barrier protect London? – the Guardian

The last time the Thames broke its banks and flooded central London was on 7 January 1928, when a storm sent record water levels up the tidal river, from Greenwich and Woolwich in the east as far as Hammersmith in the west. Built on flood plains, the capital was defended only by embankments. The flood waters burst over them into Whitehall and Westminster, and rushed through crowded slums. Fourteen died and thousands were left homeless…

Aerial view of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast, Oct. 30, 2012. (DVIDSHUB: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Every Coastal Home Is Now a Stick of Dynamite – the Atlantic

Wealthy homeowners will escape flooding. The middle class can’t.

The Langfords got out of Houston just in time. Only two months after Sara and her husband, Phillip, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in June 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck, destroying their previous house and rendering Sara’s family homeless…

Pirate Tower, Laguna Beach, California (by CC BY-NC 2.0 Wayne Hsieh via Flickr).

How does sea level rise challenge modern notions of property lines? – Los Angeles Times

The (California) Coastal Act is a remarkable commitment to the public trust doctrine, which traces back to Justinian I, who declared in 533 C.E. that “the following things are natural law common to all: the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the seashore.” This notion — that certain lands should be held in trust by the government for the benefit of all people — evolved into English common law, which the United States then adopted and California later wrote into its state constitution…

Sea fog envelopes a rocky segment of coastline at low tide near Fundy National Park in Alma, New Brunswick (by Eric Van Lochem, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia).

Rising Sea Levels Will Isolate People Long Before They’re Underwater – Hakai Magazine

Time and tide wait for no man. Neither does sea level rise. The Chignecto Isthmus—the low marshy strip connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—may be one of the most vulnerable places in Canada to sea level rise. At just 21 kilometers wide, the interprovincial land bridge is battered on its southwestern flank by the famously extreme tides in the Bay of Fundy. Protected by a network of earthen dikes first constructed in the 1600s, “the tops of the dikes are only a little higher than the spring high tides,” says Jeff Ollerhead, a coastal geomorphologist…“If we have a big storm,” he says, “water will go over the dikes.”

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