New assessment helps California prep for climate change impacts

Katherine Leitzell

Climate change is projected to increase the risk of drought, heat extremes, and wildfires in California through 2100. But at the same time, sea-level rise and changing precipitation patterns could increase the risk of floods and landslides, according to the Fourth California Climate Change Assessment.

The new assessment includes projections of temperature, precipitation, sea-level rise, and other climate-related impacts for the whole state, as well as regional reports that hone in on local impacts. It also includes recommendations and information across a wide range of sectors—from public health to agriculture—to help communities plan ahead to reduce their vulnerability.

The assessment draws on research from many scientists, including California Sea Grant extension specialists and funded researchers working to understand how climate change will impact the state—and what communities can do to adapt.

“This report is a compilation of current research on climate change impacts to natural resources, wildlife, and coastal communities. It boils down projections for climate and shoreline change, so that cities and counties can make decisions about how to prepare and adapt,” says California Sea Grant Extension Specialist Monique Myers, who co-authored the chapter of the assessment focused on California’s central coast, from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz.

Last fall, Myers led the Santa Barbara Area Coastal Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment, which showed that coastal ecosystems are projected to reach a tipping point by 2050 and two-thirds of central California beaches could disappear by 2100. It highlighted increasing risk of conditions that promote drought and wildfire, which are interconnected and influenced by climate change. Only months after that report was released, Santa Barbara experienced historic wildfires, followed by massively destructive landslides.

“This is projected to happen more in the future,” says Myers. “We’re also likely to see more impacts of sea-level rise. We’ve been spared major sea-level rise in the state so far, because of global ocean circulation patterns, but there is evidence that is changing now. As sea level rises we need to consider impacts to natural areas along with buildings and infrastructure, so both people and coastal ecosystems have room to thrive in the future.”

The new assessment highlights potential adaptation measures and solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. One of these potential solutions is to use natural shoreline restoration, such as dunes and wetlands, as opposed to hard armoring, as a way to protect communities from sea-level rise. A recent report on the topic led by former California Sea Grant Extension Fellow Jenna Judge was also included in the new assessment.

Learn more:

Q&A with Monique Myers: How will climate change affect California’s central coast?