Climate Change & Ocean Warming
The past 10 years rank among the warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850). Unfortunately, this trend of climate change is on the increase in California and around the world.
The ocean is also changing as temperatures warm and greenhouse gas concentrations increase. Warmer temperatures are causing sea level rise and creating greater risk of coastal flooding. Additional carbon dioxide is dissolving in the ocean, making it more acidic. More acidic ocean water impacts a wide variety of marine species, including species that people use for food.
These changes in the ocean will cause serious economic and environmental impacts if greenhouse gas emissions are left unchecked and no effort is made to adapt to the changing climate and ocean.
Image: CA King Tides Initiative
Take Action Against Climate Change
- There are a number of ways to take action against climate change, look through the bullets below for some ideas:
- Conserve energy. Turn off lights, radio, or TV when you are not in the room.
- Unplug the power cords that have a “brick” on them, like a cellphone charger or a computer power cord, when they are not in use. Those types of power cords draw energy even when they aren’t powering your appliances.
- Carpool, walk, ride a bike, or take public transit. Help keep roads cleaner from motor oil and our air cleaner! Even one day a week can make a difference.
- Change your ordinary light bulb to a compact fluorescent bulb. These bulbs last longer and use less energy.
- Use Cool California to calculate your household energy bills to estimate your household’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and identify ways you can cut your emissions.
- Vote for those that protect the ocean and coast.
- Take the pledge. Return the favor by taking our pledge to protect the ocean.
- Encourage your government representatives to support climate change adaptation by writing letters to your representative and providing public comment at local meetings.
- Click here for more ways you can take action against climate change.
What is Climate Change?
Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into our atmosphere-primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal, release carbon dioxide that traps heat in our atmosphere. Global temperatures have already increased 1.4°F since the Industrial Revolution, with much of this warming occurring in just the last 30 years alone. The average temperature in California is predicted to increase between 2-5°F by 2050 and 4-9°F by 2100.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change, states that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.
Climate Change is Harming the Ocean
The vitality of California’s society and economy are inextricably linked to the health of the ocean. A report on California’s Ocean Economy found that the gross state product of activities related to the ocean came to $42.9 billion. Climate change impacts will hurt California’s cean economy, including tourism, fisheries, and operation of ports. Warmer water temperatures and more acidic ocean water are causing many harmful changes to fish and wildlife populations, beaches and other coastal habitats as well as our quality of life. Below are specific examples of how climate change will affect California.
Sea Level Rise
The global sea level already has risen by seven inches over the past century. Sea level rise comes from two effects of rising temperature: the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and the thermal expansion of water. According to data collected by NASA, Antarctica has lost more than 24 cubic miles of ice each year since 2002, and its rate of ice loss is accelerating. If large ice sheets in the Antarctic melt, studies suggest that there will be a significant rise in sea levels and decreases in ocean salinity.
The thermal expansion of water simply means that water molecules take up more space when they’re warmer, thermal expansion has accounted for about half of sea level rise since 1993. Global warming is projected to cause sea level to rise an average of 14 inches by 2050 and 47 inches or more by the end of the century, according to the 2011 Ocean Protection Council’s Interim Guidance on sea level rise. This will mean that significant areas of coastal California will be flooded, coastal cliffs and bluffs will erode faster, and beaches and other coastal habitats will disappear under the rising sea. For example, if no adaptive action is taken, much of San Francisco International Airport is predicted to be underwater by 2100.
More Frequent Severe Storms and Floods
As sea levels rise and the ocean warms, the duration and intensity of storms is predicted to increase. Flooding can create significant damage to houses, transportation, and city infrastructure, with enormous financial losses. Abnormally high seas and storm surge between the 1997 and 1998 El Niño winter caused hundreds of millions of dollars in storm and flood damage in the San Francisco Bay area. Highways were flooded by six-foot waves as they splashed over waterfront bulkheads, and valuable coastal real estate was destroyed.
The California Climate Adaptation Strategy estimates that a 100 year coastal flood event with a 55 inch sea level rise will place 480,000 people and nearly $100 billion in property on California’s coast at risk, roughly two thirds of the property at risk is in San Francisco Bay.
Floods Saltwater Intrusion into Coastal Aquifers
In addition, some of California’s freshwater sources will be threatened as sea level rise pushes saltwater further into coastal rivers and aquifers. The San Francisco Bay-Delta is where California’s freshwater is pumped from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to Southern California, the rest of the Bay Area, farmers in the Central Valley, and water users in the Delta itself. The Bay-Delta is vulnerable to sea level rise due to land subsidence (sinking) as well as the increase in sea levels. Most of the Bay-Delta is below today’s sea level and parts of the central and western delta are more than 15 feet below sea level. The Bay-Delta’s extreme vulnerability to sea level rise, levee failure, and coastal flooding makes it likely that saltwater will start to intrude in what is now freshwater aquifers, and the freshwater infrastructure that California uses now will no longer be able to transport freshwater to areas that need it.
Given that the ocean has absorbed roughly half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) created through human activities, the ocean has become more acidic. Increased acidity limits the ability of marine life, such as oysters, to form shells that are made up of calcium carbonate that provide them protection. Unchecked, ocean acidification could one day make seawater so corrosive to these organisms that they are unable to grow. And this will lead to catastrophic disruptions in the food chain.
What is the state of California doing?
California produced roughly 5.7 percent of the U.S., greenhouse gases in 2009. California has developed and implemented a variety of policies, regulations, and laws to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing climate:
- Cal EPA has been producing report cards on greenhouse gas reductions by state agencies since 2008. The most recent report card was created for 2012, and you can find it here.
- Currently, the Climate Action Team is creating an update to the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy. A progress report for the Strategy was provided in 2010 by the Natural Resources Agency. The Climate Adaptation Strategy synthesizes the most up-to-date information regarding climate change impacts to California and provides strategies to promote resiliency to these impacts for resource managers and agencies.
- In 2011, Governor Brown signed SBX12, requiring that one-third of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.
- The Ocean Protection Council has developed the California Sea-Level Rise Interim Guidance Document,with sea level rise estimates for agencies to use.
- The Climate Action Team also released its near-term implementation plans in 2010, which state specific greenhouse gas reduction measures and how they will be accomplished. The Climate Action Team also creates a set of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by California State Government.
- In 2008, the governor signed Executive Order S-13-08, directing state agencies to plan for sea level rise and climate impacts. A number of State Agencies have created sea level rise plans since then.
- The Global Warming Solutions Act was signed into law; the Act commits the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, a 25 percent reduction under “business as usual” estimates.
To learn more about the state’s actions, including a detailed timeline of climate change policy, and for more information about climate change science, visit www.climatechange.ca.gov.
What is the federal government doing?
The federal government is pursuing a comprehensive and widespread suite of efforts to further understand and respond to the long-term risks posed to the United States by climate change. These efforts are detailed in a report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions titled “Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies Are Doing.” The comprehensive list of efforts by all federal departments is exhaustive and lengthy, but some initiatives highlighted by the report include:
Department of Commerce:
- NOAA launched the Climate Services Portal to provide climate data, products and services
- NOAA and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program released “Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science” to help individuals of all ages understand how climate influences them and how they influence climate.
Department of Defense
- DoD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program explores infrastructure vulnerability to climate change.
Department of Homeland Security
- Federal Emergency Management Administration is developing a Risk Map to provide data for, and increase awareness of, climate change rise to the US.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Long-term Disaster Recovery Working Group is helping protect communities against climate change effects.
Department of the Interior
- DOI is identifying resources vulnerable to climate change and implementing adaptive actions for 50 percent of the country.
U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)
The USGCRP is an interagency initiative, mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to “coordinate and integrate federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society”. By making substantial investment in climate change research, this program has advanced our understanding of short- and long-term changes in climate, the impacts of these changes on ecosystems and society, and scientific information to enable effective decision making to address the threats of climate change. A recent product includes:
Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, 2009
A report that summarizes the science of climate change and the impacts of climate change on the U.S. now and in the future.
Administrator’s Alternative/Renewable Energy Goals
President Obama and Vice President Biden have developed a comprehensive plan to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end our addiction to foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs. The goals of the Obama/Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan are to:
- Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
- Within 10 years, save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
- Put one million plug-in hybrid cars – cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015.
- Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
- Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
- Reduce federal government emissions by 28% by the year 2020.