Port of San Diego could partner with Scripps Institution of Oceanography center

New center on sea level rise and climate change hopes to better understand – and react to – weather changes and its effects.

SAN DIEGO — The Port of San Diego hopes the establishment of a new center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will help the public better understand climate change and sea level rise and assist policymakers with the pursuit of adaptive strategies.

Commissioners with the Port of San Diego spent a few minutes chatting with a representative from the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, or CCCIA, at their May 8 meeting. Scripps recently brought CCCIA online with the help of a philanthropist.

The center has yet to develop formal relations with the port district but hopes to at least advise it and others on how to be more proactive in combating the possible effects of climate change.

CCCIA staff said the center focuses not only on what’s happening today, but how science could be weaved into future policy and action.

Mark Merrifield, who heads CCCIA, spoke with commissioners about the new institution.

“Our role is to leverage the research that’s being done at Scripps … to create some solutions for climate change,” Merrifield told commissioners, adding the new climate change center at Scripps focuses on discovery, solutions and leadership development.

CCCIA, according to Merrifield, would “advance interdisciplinary science and science-based strategies to help communities better understand climate change impacts and develop adaptive solutions.”

“We want to actually test adaptive solutions in collaboration with the public,” Merrifield said.

Merrifield added while he personally focuses on sea level rise the center, as a whole, analyzes the broader effects of climate change. The center itself is comprised of interdisciplinary researchers, science translators, community engagement specialists and students.

The center also collaborates with members of the U.C. San Diego community, such as oceanographers, meteorologists, engineers, economists, public health specialists and the like.

“San Diego is really in the crosshairs of climate change. There’s no other place in the country that sees such … profound natural variability. When you add in the climate change piece, the risk factors are just growing and growing,” Merrifield said, adding it is important to distinguish between natural variation of whether and actual climate change.

The CCCIA leader added we’ll experience climate change in extremes, with Hurricane Harvey and Houston providing the most recent example of what the future might hold in store.

“[Climate change would be experienced] through the changing character of extreme events as we go forward, how often they occur, how long they occur, the strength of storms,” Merrifield told commissioners. “It’s going to be the response of those extreme events that’s really the cutting edge of climate change adaptation.”

Sea level rise could cause certain areas of San Diego to be under as much as 6 feet of water under a worst-case scenario, according to a forecast model Merrifield shared with commissioners. Even if the worst-case scenario was averted, port infrastructure and local beaches could still be affected.

The model also showed the effects of sea level rise on the San Diego coast between 1 and 6 feet.

“It’s important to get out in front of this problem, to build resilient strategies and to use the best science,” Merrifield said.

Another variable, according to Merrifield, is groundwater seeping up from the ground (and not just flooding or spillage coming from the ocean or bay).

Also factoring into the development of adaptation strategies is when to decide on hardening the coast or moving coastal populations inland.

CCCIA would be helpful in leveraging resources at U.C. San Diego to present a holistic view on climate change to the public, port district staff told The Log.

The center could specifically complement the port district’s development of adaptation strategies. What areas along the San Diego waterfront are vulnerable to sea level rise by 2100? What are the potential effects? What are the financial costs associated with adaptation (versus doing nothing or implementing mitigation measures)?

Port district staff stated they are currently collecting data and will start a discussion by summer or fall on fulfilling the requirements of Assembly Bill 619, which requires local and regional agencies to submit a climate change and sea level rise adaptation plan to the state by July 2019.

CCCIA and Scripps could be instrumental to helping the Port of San Diego develop an adaptation plan, port district staff told The Log.

Commission Chair Rafael Castellanos pointed to a naval station at Norfolk, Virginia, as a potential case study of what could happen at the port district if adaptation strategies or mitigation efforts aren’t implemented. He said the sea level there has risen by more than 14 inches since World War I.

“By 2100 it could flood 280 times a year,” Castellanos said, adding a partnership between CCCIA and the port district could go a long way in figuring out how to adapt to predicted sea level rise.

Merrifield told commissioners adaptive strategies are important to develop, but mitigation can have a greater effect in minimizing sea level rise.

“We can actually avoid some of the worst-case scenarios here,” Merrifield said. “There are case scenarios where we don’t go above 2 feet, but business as usual is most likely 4 to 6 feet by the end of the century, and it doesn’t stop there. It just keeps going.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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