The East Bay's Future Climate Will Be Both Dry and Wet
By Robert Gammon
East Bay Express
14 February 2018
Photo courtesy of Berkeleyside
Climatologists predict that the future of California’s environment will be simultaneously dry and wet. The state is on track to have intense periods of drought over the next century, not unlike the bone-dry winters that occurred from 2011 through 2015. At the same time, climate change will also spur intense storms that bring heavy precipitation.
Moreover, as global temperatures rise, and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica begin to melt, sea levels will rise causing a great deal of coastal flooding for California. Think of our future as being like Los Angeles, only with our coastal areas partially submerged, particularly during powerful storms.
Climatologists predict that by 2100, global sea levels will rise 2 to 8 feet. Others warn that such a figure is too conservative and that the deterioration of ice fields in Antarctica could cause sea level rise from 4 to 10 feet by the century’s end.
John Radke, Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design, has been working on models that predict the impact of sea level rise for the Bay Area and California as a whole.
Radke warns that the greatest threat of sea level rise is the powerful storm surges that will occur during periods of heavy rain and high tides. “The storms are going to be more frequent,” he said, adding, “and the storms are going to be stronger.”
Radke warns that surge storms will flood coastal areas and inflict costly damage. He even predicts that in coming decades, it will no longer be economically feasible to maintain Interstate 880 through Oakland due to constant flood repairs.
Radke has looked to the Netherlands for flooding solutions as one third of the country exists below sea level. The Netherlands uses an ornate system of dikes and levees to hold back the sea. However, if levees were to be built in the San Francisco Bay, it would likely only delay the inevitable. “Building a levee is a Band Aid. It'll get us through a decade or two or three,” Radke said.
In addition to rising sea level, storm surges, and flooding, the Bay Area will also experience rising temperatures and droughts.
“By 2050, it's clearly going to be drier and warmer,” said Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental, Science and Policy Management. Stewart said that during the coming decades, the East Bay's landscape is expected to add more shrubland and lose forest, shifting “to vegetation that does better in drier terrain.”
Increasing droughts in the East Bay will have dramatic effects on local vegetation. It is expected that during extended droughts, redwoods, oaks, fir, and eucalyptus trees will die as the lack of water will weaken the trees and leave them vulnerable to disease and insect infestation.
Such a phenomenon has already been occuring in the Sierra Nevada. Scientists estimate that over 100 million trees have died statewide in the past several years as a result of drought.
As trees die, it is likely that they will be replaced by drought-tolerant shrubs, which increase the region’s risk of wildfire. Last month, a group of scientists warned in the journal BioScience that California's dead trees could fuel wildfires of unprecedented fury.
“Shrubs are the most flammable vegetation we have in California,” Stewart said. “So, a shift to shrublands does not portend well for us in Northern California.”
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