San Diego in 2050 … if current trends continue

June 04, 2013
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What will it be like to live in San Diego in 2050? We might imagine traffic, or home prices, a more urban environment. More technology, more people. But what about our changing climate? How will it impact our quality of life?

Many of us love San Diego precisely because we love our bluebird skies and sunshine the way they are now. So, what happens to all that love when the weather changes, kinda permanently?

The San Diego Foundation in 2008 published a report on San Diego’s changing climate and what it means to all of us. The report, authored by a collection of heavy-hitting scientists and other local big wigs, was supposed to be a “wake-up call” for local citizens. Like many, I hit snooze.

The foundation is now updating the first report as part of a National Science Foundation project called Climate Education Partners. The second report, slated for release in 6 to 9 months, will incorporate new science findings and highlight bright spots in how our community is taking action and thinking about things differently, says Nicola Hedge, the San Diego Foundation’s climate initiative manager.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit the first set of predictions, in light of the new ones that will be out soon. It should be fascinating to  learn what predictions for our region have changed (i.e., sea-level rise scenarios or precipitation patterns) and the science behind why.

Here are the CliffsNotes from the first report.

In 2050, if current trends in greenhouse-gas emissions continue:

1) San Diego’s climate will be hotter and drier. Early November will “feel” like September does now. Peak summer daytime temperatures will rise 6 degrees or more throughout the county.

2) Sea level will rise 12 to 18 inches. Existing tide pools and low-lying beaches will be lost. The bayside beaches of Mission Beach will be totally flooded during high tides. Other low-lying areas, notably Coronado and Imperial Beach, are also at risk.

3) Increased demand for water. With both population and economic growth, San Diego County’s thirst for water will increase about 37 percent. That is doubly bad news since our region’s major supplies of freshwater – from the Colorado River and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – are dwindling.

4) Higher risk of wildfires. Expect up to a 20-percent increase in the number of days with ideal conditions for wildfires annually.

5) Native plant and animal species will migrate to new habitats and others will become extinct. There will be widespread loss of trees and forests from wildfires, drought and insect attacks.

6) Worse air quality. More hot, sunny days will increase smog. The boost in ozone pollution will exacerbate asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

7) Higher demand for electricity. Our region will use at least 60 percent more electricity and our peak energy demand will rise by more than 70 percent, with warmer weather causing about 7 percent of the increase.

For the unabridged version of the  report, including a full list of the scientists and others who contributed, visit the San Diego Foundation or download the PDF  “San Diego’s Changing Climate: A Regional Wake-up Call.”

Written by Christina Johnson

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.