What We Can Learn From The Bay Area’s Sea Rise

Nov. 6, 2012 | Claire Schoen Media
Claire Schoen


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  • Wetland restoration scientists Michelle Orr and Justin Vandeber measure the depth of mud at a former salt pond near East Palo Alto. Restoring wetlands will help protect the Bay shoreline against the affect of sea level rise. credit: Jan Sturmann
  • The Sausalito ferry approaches the San Francisco Ferry Building at the edge of the Financial District. Climate scientist predict that sea level rise and extreme weather will cause severe, repeated flooding of the Financial District by 2050. credit: Jan Sturmann
  • Will Travis, head of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, standing on Pier 14. Flooding, due to climate change, threatens development around the Bay including SFO and Oakland International Airport. credit: Jan Sturmann
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  • The Foster City lagoon as seen from the home of T. Jack Foster III. His father and grandfather founded Foster City in 1958. The Fosters are relying on the existing levy to protect their community from predicated sea level rise. credit: Jan Sturmann
  • T. Jack Foster II, who founded Foster City with his father in 1958, rides in an electric boat around the Forster City Lagoon with his son T. Jack Foster III. credit: Jan Sturmann
  • The Golden Gate Bridge spans the opening to the San Francisco Bay. . The Bay Area is home to seven million people. Predicted sea level rise due to climate change threatens much of the Bay’s shoreline. credit: Jan Sturmann
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  • Healy Hamilton, who researches the effect of climate change on biodiversity, stands at the San Francisco tide gauge near the Golden Gate Bridge. The tide gauge has measured the rise and fall of tides continuously since 1854. credit: Jan Sturmann
  • Ferma Corporation workers do levee remedial work along the Alameda County Creek levee in Fremont. The levee protects Fremont from creek flooding and San Francisco Bay storm surge. credit: Jan Sturmann
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  • Chuey Cazares (right) and his cousin Jose Lujan have lived all their lives in Alviso, California. But climate change is threatening their town. credit: Jan Sturmann
Wetland restoration scientists Michelle Orr and Justin Vandeber measure the depth of mud at a former salt pond near East Palo Alto. Restoring wetlands will help protect the Bay shoreline against the affect of sea level rise. | credit: Jan Sturmann | rollover image for more

Last week’s superstorm Sandy demonstrated on a grand scale the kind of turmoil extreme weather events can bring to coastal areas.

Rising sea levels bring high tides and high waves to our shores. It is no longer possible to halt all the impacts coming with climate change. It is time to start adapting to those changes that are now inevitable.

The public media project RISE looked to the San Francisco Bay Area for answers. These are the stories of men and women living along the water: a fisherman, a farmer, a developer and others. We see the bay from various perspectives. A kayaker brings us eye level to levees at the water’s edge. An urban planner considers how filling in wetlands has increased the flood risk. An architect suggests one plan that may keep the waters in check. Their responses can provide a model for people everywhere in the face of this growing global crisis.

Webstory 1: Beside The Tide

Sea level rise is an effect of global climate change. How does this work? As oceans absorb heat from carbon pollution, the waters expand. As glaciers melt, more water pours into the oceans. Climate disruption causes higher tides and storm surges. The result: more and more flooding for cities like San Francisco.

Webstory 2: Hard Choices

While we must stop adding greenhouse gases to the global atmosphere, conservation and green technologies can no longer completely halt the impact of climate change on people, wildlife, and the lands and waters we depend on. Adapting to climate change is also necessary. This story is about creative solutions to deal with sea level rise for cities at the waters’ edge.

Webstory 3: Rooted at the Water’s Edge

Steve’s pickup truck bumps along a narrow dirt road running along the top of a levee. This is Tyler Island, in the San Francisco Delta, where Steve is a third generation farmer; his son is being raised as the fourth. But Steve’s land lies 20 feet below sea level and the levees protecting it from the surrounding waters are threatened by sea level rise. For Steve, retreat is not an option. He has a family legacy to preserve.

Webstory 4: Mortgaging the Future

In the development rush of the 1960’s 40% of the San Francisco Bay was filled in. One result was Foster City, built completely on wetlands and sitting at sea level. But rising seas, higher waves and storm surges, brought on by climate change, threaten the levees in front of this city. T. Jack Foster Junior, who built this town, paints a rosier picture of the area’s future.

Webstory 5: The Flood Next Time

Chuey Cazares is part of a large extended Chicano family, living in the tiny hamlet of Alviso. Nestled in between salt ponds, on the southern tip of San Francisco Bay, Alviso is at risk of flooding from both the creeks above and the Bay below. Converting the salt ponds back to their original wetlands could save this town.

Webstory 6: Tide Ride

San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of the Americas, and it is a place of great biological diversity. We journey underneath its surface to swim with the harbor seals; we look overhead at a million migratory birds; and we explore marshlands along its shores.

(These webstories were produced as part of the public media project, RISE Climate Change and Coastal Communities.)

© 2012 Claire Schoen Media
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