New research about sinking Catalina Island could offer insight on sea level rise, earthquakes and more

CATALINA ISLAND — Many cities along the West Coast have entered into the debate about sea level rise including some very grim depictions of what the coastline could look like as little as 50 years from now. Catalina Island, of course, has been part of this conversation, according to some sources, for 100 years or more. However, in a new study released by Stanford University, it was determined that unlike many of Southern California’s islands, Catalina Island is in fact sinking.

New research released in November, in addition to confirmation the island is sinking about two millimeters – or the height of a nickel – each decade, also claimed the island is tilting slightly. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2015 scientists were afraid if Catalina Island continues sinking this could set off a tsunami. Stanford’s research further determines the tilting island’s underwater cliffs become steeper and steeper due to this natural process, resulting in submarine landslides.

In Catalina’s past, research suggests these underwater landslides have happened. A few of the side effects of low-level coastal communities: flooding might be more common, and those residing in the area may begin to see the impact of accelerating sea level rise.

While the new research may sound dire, understanding how the earth’s terrace has changed along the coastline can unveil information about communities outside of Southern California. In an article reported by Stanford News in late November, it stated that studying these submerged landslides could even offer information about Mars and whether or not it had the presence of water or ice. As scientists continue to discover more about the island’s movement, this could help better predict sea levels and possibly lead to a mathematical model of when and where the earth’s crust is rising or sinking.

The new research could also give Southern Californians a better understanding or teutonic plates and earthquake fault lines.

Chris Castillo, a graduate student in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and lead author of the paper, told Stanford News, “If Catalina were to change direction and start going up that would imply a significant reorganization of the distribution of tectonic stress in Southern California.”

Castillo also added, “We’re living in a time when the shoreline is changing on us again,” beckoning to how the Earth’s surface has shifted from ancient times.


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