High Tides Hint to San Diego's Future

Researchers expect local sea level to climb

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC San Diego

    Five people stood on a small white boat Thursday morning off the Coronado shoreline, attention turned toward the high tides rocking the Silver Strand isthmus.

    Jen Kovesces shot a photograph of the risen water level at its peak: an image of the future.

    A San Diego storm combined with a perigean spring tide provided a glimpse of how a substantial sea-level rise anticipated in the coming decades will affect the region’s coast.

    “As we were boating past Coronado, once you get to where the residential areas start after the military bases, there are houses you can see right at the shoreline of the bay,” said Kovesces, a San Diego Coastkeeper staff scientist. “The tide even today was getting toward the top of the (barriers) used to protect those houses.”

    The sight was pertinent.

    If current trends continue, a 12- to 18-inch rise in sea level is projected for San Diego by 2050, according to the San Diego Foundation 2050 report.

    Local researchers and policy makers are working closely to accommodate the increase, caused by such factors as thermal expansion and ice cap melting catalyzed by global climate change.

    Preparing for the rising tides is no easy feat.

    At the Strand, the narrow, low-level and sandy topographic surface suggest a sea-level rise will especially impact the area.

    Residential and industrial establishments would suffer if nothing is done to brace for that impact, but such simple solutions as installing a sea wall would harm the Strand’s ecology, Kovesces said.

    These conversation topics are already being discussed, something she calls “exciting.”

    "The sooner we start the conversation and start thinking about those challenges,” Kovesces said, “the easier it will be for us to implement those strategies, and the more cost effective it will become. It only gets more expensive the longer you wait to address those challenges.”

    On a broader scope, sea-level rise is expected to increase globally by a meter at century’s end, according to 2009 research.

    Such change will be something California’s coast has seen relatively little of late, says Dan Cayan, climate researcher at Scripps Institution.

    Cayan said that since the late 1980s, the amount of California sea-level rise has been “almost negligible,” particularly when compared to the Western part of the Pacific Basin.

    “At some point, it’s probably going to relax or shift,” Cayan said, “and we’ll see a resurgence of sea-level rise along the West Coast.”

    In the immediate future, John Everhart, San Diego lifeguard lieutenant, said the tides this week will be high but not “astronomically high" — certainly not the highest tides of the year.

    “Saturday may cause issues,” Everhart said. “I don't anticipate any huge problems, but we’ll keep our eyes on it. Our rescue teams will be ready.”