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Researchers Warn of Serious Threat
Global Warming Poses to California

By Ioana Patringenaru | August 16, 2006

Sea levels and temperatures would rise. Beaches and water supplies would shrink. Wildfires could become more frequent. Global warming could have a devastating impact on California, according to scientific findings that Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers and state officials discussed this month at UCSD.

The findings are based on 17 scientific studies that used different models to determine how global warming could impact the state. The studies were summarized in “Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California,” a report recently released by state officials. Scripps and UC Berkeley researchers worked with colleagues from other universities and public agencies, including the California Air Resources Board and the USDA Forest Service.

Chancellor Fox
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox

“UCSD has had a long commitment to work with the state of California and other partners to address the threat of climate change in California,” Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said during a press conference on Aug. 11 at the Birch Aquarium.

Scripps and UCSD have been at the forefront of climate change research for a long time, starting with Roger Revelle and Charles Keeling’s work, Fox pointed out. Five decades later, this most recent report found that:

  • Average temperatures could rise between 1 and 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit during the next few decades. By 2100, temperatures could rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the Los Angeles area for up to 100 more days per year
  • The risk of large wildfires in California could increase by as much as 55 percent
  • Sea levels could rise by 14 to 35 inches by the end of the century, leading to severe beach erosion.

“Global warming is one of the most daunting challenges of our time,” said Linda Adams, the state’s Secretary for the Environmental Protection.

Dan Cayan
Reinhard Flick and the SIO Pier

During the Aug. 11 press conference, scientists and state officials focused on threats to California’s 1,100 miles of coastline.

“Sun, surf and sand simply are the essence of California,” said Reinhard Flick, a researcher at Scripps and the state’s Department of Boating and Waterways.

Storms stripped beaches of sand in the past, especially during El Nino events, but tides later replenished them, Flick said. If sea levels rise faster, storms could become more powerful and carry sand further away, making it harder for beaches to recover, he said. Erosion also would threaten oceanfront development. “It’s not just rich people’s houses we’re talking about going in the drink,” Flick said. “It’s also important state infrastructure, including state parks, parking, public beach access.”

Dan Cayan
Dan Cayan remarks on energy

The good news is that the report presents scenarios, not forecasts, said Dan Cayan, a Scripps researcher and one of the report’s contributing authors.

“We actually do have a choice in determining which trajectory we go on,” he said.
People should conserve energy, turn their lights off and try to find alternative energy sources, Cayan said.

“We’re going to have technology on our side as time goes by, but in the meantime, personal choices can make a difference,” he said.

On June 1, 2005 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order that called for cutting head-trapping emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It also called for scientific reports looking at the potential impact of global warming on some sectors of California’s economy. “Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California” is the first of these reports.

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