September 14, 2011
California Coast To Feel Brunt Of Sea Level Rise
Picturesque beach towns up and down the coast of California may be facing hefty economic losses caused by rising ocean levels in the next century, according to a new state-commissioned study funded by the California Department of Boating and Waterways and conducted by economists at San Francisco State University.
The study examines the cost of both coastal storm damage and erosion which are expected to increase as average coastal sea levels rise. Economists also expect impacts on tourism and natural habitats as beaches lose sand due to erosion, lessening their appeal to visitors and their ability to sustain wildlife.
“You need a certain amount of space for people to recreate, and, as beaches erode, you lose beach size and you lose tourism,” study author Phillip King, associate professor of economics at San Francisco State, told Tony Barboza of the Los Angeles Times (LA Times).
The study suggests that the type of damage and severity will vary depending on a community´s economy, geography and local decisions about coastal area use.
One example of the tremendous impact such loss of beach front could entail is Venice Beach, which stands to suffer up to $440 million in tourism and tax revenue losses if the Pacific Ocean rises 55 inches by 2100, as scientists predict.
A highly eroded Zuma Beach and Broad Beach in Malibu would cost as much as $500 million in tourism spending and tax revenue, LA Times reports.
If sea level rises by just under 5 feet in Malibu, beaches could lose also almost $500 million in accumulated tourism revenue between now and the beginning of the next century. Revenue losses would be much smaller at San Francisco´s windswept Ocean Beach, an estimated $82 million, as it attracts fewer visitors per year.
Researchers emphasize the pressing need for local beach communities to adapt to the rising waters by building sea walls, replenishing beach sand or pushing homes and structures away from the shoreline, King said.
Ocean levels have risen about 8 inches in the last century and this is expected to continue at an increasing rate along with global warming. “Sea-level rise is here,” King said, “and we need to start planning for it.”
California may have been spared the full strength of the ocean´s advance for the last few decades. Earlier this year, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego found that while sea levels rose around the globe, they were on slow to occur on the US West Coast for the last three decades because of a pattern of cold surface waters.
Recent research suggests this trend may be reversing and an era of accelerated sea-level rise could begin this decade as water temperatures rise.
The study was commissioned and funded by the California Department of Boating and Waterways and peer-reviewed by the California Ocean Science Trust on behalf of the Ocean Protection Council.
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