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Sea Level Rise in the Bay Area

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SEPTEMBER 07, 2023

For many of us, sea level rise may seem like a distant idea far into the future. However, we are already two decades into the 21st century and the sea level rise has evidently been no ghost to many coastal regions across the globe. Many Americans may envision the effects of a rising sea only on coastal island nations, sounds or shorebanks thousands of miles away. When learning about sea level rise in school, if given the opportunity, we often watch videos on the faraway effects of what a rising sea may look like.

The Solomon Islands, situated off the northeast coast of Australia, are part of Oceania and are the prime example given when envisioning the effects of sea level rise. The country of the Solomon Islands comprises more than 900 island chain archipelago, with a few larger islands serving more of the population. 

Unfortunately, sea levels are rising here three times faster than the global average. What has now been coined as “sinking islands” began on this archipelago, in which five islands have virtually ceased to exist, having sunk underwater. Adding to this, more than six larger islands have lost 20% of their surface area. This has led the country to figure out solutions for residents to migrate inwards or temporarily move to islands that are not facing the immediate effects of a rising sea.

The situation of the Solomon Islands can make anyone anxious, especially if you live near water. In the Bay Area, many of us may not have considered the effects of sea level rise just yet, but there is no reason to believe that we won’t be excluded from this global phenomenon. 

The California Natural Resources Agency expects sea levels in the Bay Area to rise by 1.9 feet in 2050 and 6.9 feet in 2100. This will affect those who commute by car or train and those living in particularly vulnerable areas close to the water. 

Popular areas along the bayside of San Francisco that attract tourists from all across the nation like Crissy Field and Fisherman’s Wharf will be especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. Almost any spot a local Californian may have driven to on the coast, hypothetically, could be in danger of rising sea levels. The reality of this situation can bring about fear amongst policymakers, local governments and residents alike.

Save the Bay is a nonprofit organization based in the Bay Area that is dedicated to preparing, mitigating and responding to the effects of sea level rise along coastal shorelines. Save the Bay strives to work with local leaders and communities to create plans for adapting to sea level rise. If you’re a Bay Area local looking to help mitigate the alarming effects of sea level rise, Save the Bay has numerous volunteer opportunities ranging from habitat restoration to student education.

Sea level rise is not the only water-related issue that will come to plague the Bay Area. Groundwater rise and heavy rain, coupled with improper drainage systems, can lead to increased inland flooding.  

The UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design recently published a report on dealing with sea level rise, which further noted that even if we were to stop producing carbon today, sea level rise will still continue. The solution presented in this proposal entails a series of steps to mitigate the potential harmful effects that we will experience.

It starts by introducing what is known as “micro-polders,” which serve to work with water controlling levees to maintain a steady water level. Next, sediment would be constructed — known as “shallowing” — to rebuild wetland habitats and keep waves at bay. The goal of these two mechanisms, among others, is to protect lower elevation areas from any form of flooding.

The idea of reconstructing shorelines is quite daunting and costly, but it appears to be our reality at this moment. Resolving the issue at its root — limiting greenhouse gas emissions — does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon, so it is up to policymakers to create plans now to prepare for the future.

Contact Ashley Carter at 


SEPTEMBER 07, 2023