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San Francisco Sinks as Waters Rise

Climate
San Francisco Sinks as Waters Rise
San Francisco's Treasure Island, where new developments are currently being built, is threatened by both sinking land and rising seas. Noah_Loverbear / Wikimedia Commons

According to a study released March 7, half of San Francisco International Airport's runways could sink underwater by 2100, The New York Times reported.

The study, published in Science Advances by Manoochehr Shirzaei of Arizona State University and Roland Bürgmann of the University of California, Berkeley, reveals that sea level rise poses more of a threat to the Bay Area than previously thought. The reason? A phenomenon known as subsidence, or land sinking.


Shirzaei and Bürgmann found that previous flood-risk maps based on sea-level-rise projections were too conservative because they did not take local land subsidence (LLS) into account. This is a big problem for San Francisco, since parts of its coast lie on top of compacting landfills and mud deposits that are subsiding by a rate of 10 millimeters per year. "The maps estimating 100-year inundation hazards solely based on the projection of sea level rise from various emission scenarios underestimate the area at risk of flooding by 3.7 to 90.9%," they wrote in their abstract.

The report contains revised flood-risk maps that account for the combined impact of LLS and sea level rise (SLR) based on different emissions scenarios.

The map on the right shows the combined impact of LLS and SLR if we meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement; the map on the left show revised water levels if no effort is made to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Science Advances

In addition to the San Francisco airport, Shirzaei and Bürgmann's work revealed that Foster City, Union City and Treasure Island are particularly at risk. Treasure Island has recently been the target of development, and as many as 8,000 homes are set to be built there, California Magazine reported.

Caption: The top row of maps shows how much land could be underwater due to LLS alone by 2100; the middle row shows land threatened by SLR given a business-as-usual emissions scenario; the bottom row shows the combined impact of both. Science Advances

The findings give new urgency to a lawsuit brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland against the five largest investor-owned fossil-fuel producing companies, contending the companies understood the link between their activities and man-made climate change, and demanding they foot the bill for seawalls and other infrastructure adjustments.

The study underscores the fact that no matter how green a city attempts to be, it is still at the mercy of global decisions when it comes to climate change, as Oliver Milman pointed out in an article for The Guardian.

"San Francisco can lay claim to being one of the greenest cities in the U.S., through its embrace of clean energy, mandated recycling and banning of single-use plastic bags, yet it faces a steep challenge to avoid the ravages of sea level rise," Milman wrote.

The study also has implications beyond San Francisco, since it suggests other low-lying areas might be in more danger than previously thought if subsidence is taken into account.

"You look at places like Bangladesh, Jakarta—sea level rise is a critical issue," Bürgmann told California Magazine. While the new projections might be scary, they also improve cities' ability to plan for the future. "Our approach allows for refined and accurate assessment, and that can help drive rational responses," Bürgmann said.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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