Project Number
Project Date Range
Funding Agency
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Focus Area(s)
Resilient Coastal Communities and Economies

Humboldt Bay in Northern California is experiencing the fastest relative rate of sea-level rise in the western United States. Rising tides, groundwater and shoreline erosion will pose threats to numerous industries and businesses, lands of cultural and tribal importance, critical infrastructure and sensitive coastal habitats. Thousands of people and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure, development and property are predicted to be impacted possibly as early as 2030. 

The Humboldt Bay shoreline is governed by numerous state and local agencies with different jurisdictions and missions. As sea levels rise, waters will cross these political boundaries, making planning especially challenging. In order to devise feasible adaptation solutions, it will be necessary for property owners, government agencies and community groups to coordinate their efforts, however, there is no clear pathway for doing so. 

This project can contribute to understanding the social and political context of sea-level rise adaptation planning. Researchers analyzed available documentation related to sea-level rise in the Humboldt Bay and improved accessibility to documentation for interested stakeholders. Researchers collected social data through surveys and interviews of stakeholders about their perceptions of sea-level rise planning efforts, as well as challenges and opportunities for coordination. Results were brought back to stakeholders through presentations and workshops. 

The data indicated coastal professionals on Humboldt Bay agreed sea-level rise is a near-term issue and acknowledged a need for regional coordination but did not have a clear direction for how to coordinate cross jurisdictional sea-level rise issues. Respondents identified governance challenges to regional sea-level rise planning and adaptation that included a lack of resources, institutional and philosophical differences, and competing priorities. Responses indicated environmental regulation provided both challenges and opportunities as well. Behavioral-related challenges and opportunities noted by study participants included leadership, trust and personal acceptance of sea-level rise as a phenomenon. Responses also suggested engagement of the public by coastal professionals has been minimal and will need to be improved in order to promote more equitable adaptation strategies.

Results from this research can be used to help improve coordinated efforts for addressing sea-level rise at regional and national levels. Such social science research can help improve the processes of integrating stakeholder engagement with management needs of scientists and governing agencies, and can inform more integrated approaches in other regions seeking climate solutions.


Principal Investigators
Kristen Orth-Gordinier
Cal Poly Humboldt