Guest opinion by Julianne Steers
Featured image: Courtesy of Julianne Steers
The sun is out, and quality surf continues. There is a southwest swell maintaining sets pushing 6-to-8-foot waves, a period of 20 seconds, and 8-wave sets hitting the coast on repeat. The news we all hope to wake up to every day. You check the cams; it is a perfect combination of sun and glass, yet it will only improve as the tide shifts. Surf, at many spots along our coast, is tide-sensitive. Too high, the waves do not break. Too low, the shoreline reef becomes exposed and dangerous. The perfect balance equals a prime wave. These few feet definitely make a difference. Just think, what if we added three feet to our normal tides? Forever. That is where a future lies with sea-level rise.
Our precious surf breaks and our iconic coastline are extremely vulnerable to changes in sea level. Sea level as we know it will change, and with it where the surf breaks and how the coast erodes will change. These changes will have profound impacts on our coastal communities.
Exactly, how does sea level rise? In respect to climate change, our ocean rises by a few factors. First, as the oceans warm due to an increasing global temperature, seawater expands—taking up more space in the ocean basin and causing a rise in water level. The second mechanism is the melting of ice over land, which then adds more water to the ocean. Thirdly, vertical land movement on our West Coast results in considerable subsistence (sinking). This trio of processes certainly adds up.
Thankfully, we have technology that helps scientists monitor and measure sea level using tide buoys and satellites, rendering local and global data. Together, these tools demonstrate how our sea levels are changing over time.
You may have heard of the King Tides during our winter months that are unrelated to climate change, but bring an additional foot of water to our shore. These events are excellent indicators of how our coastal infrastructure will fare as our climate shifts. Our stunning sea cliffs of sedimentary rock will not withstand the pounding swell. Erosion is imminent, causing coastlines to retreat, pressuring the homes and rail lines of our communities.
Year by year, we can adapt, plan, and adjust to ensure the longevity of our towns and that perfect wave.
Julianne Steers is a marine biologist and conservation photographer. She has an extensive background in ecology, and has been researching, diving and exploring the local ecosystem and beyond to sustain the natural world.