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Science

Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire (wired.com) 291

An anonymous reader writes: San Francisco Bay Area residents have long been aware of the threat that sea level rise poses to their coastal existence -- but things suddenly look a lot more serious. A new study examines the simultaneous phenomena of rising sea levels and subsiding coastal land, and as Wired reports, the situation is pretty dire. Models that factor in just sea level rise predict that at least 20 square miles could be underwater by 2100. Once you add in subsiding land, that jumps to nearly 50 square miles, and could get as bad as 165 square miles. Or, put another way, by the end of the century, half of the runways and taxiways at San Francisco Airport could be submerged.

The study found that most of the Bay's coastline is sinking at a rate of less than 2 millimeters a year -- and while that may not sound like a lot, the millimeters can add up fast. "You talk to someone about, 'Oh the land is going down a millimeter a year,' and that can be kind of unimpressive," says William Hammond, a researcher at the University of Nevada Reno who studies subsidence (but was not involved in this particular project). "But we know as scientists that these motions, especially if they come from plate tectonics, that they are relentless and they will never stop, at least as long as we're alive on this planet."

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Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire

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    • I'm just not sure that this is really news. I guess it's mildly interesting to combine both tectonic subsidence and sea level rise, but, frankly, most of San Francisco is hilly. There won't be much impact. A small amount of the waterfront may get more wet, but most of SF will remain high and dry.

      SFO airport is indeed at sea level-- it's right on the bay. But you can build runways up if you need to; it's not hard.

      • by Kenja ( 541830 )
        More of an issue for the rest of the Bay Area, such as where I am in Marin. Lots of low lying marsh land.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        SFO airport is indeed at sea level-- it's right on the bay. But you can build runways up if you need to; it's not hard.

        No, it's not hard. It's just costly.

        Enjoy your $20 runway surcharge tacked on to every flight in and out of that airport. And don't think for a second that cost burden won't be shared.

        • No, it's not hard. It's just costly.

          It's more costly not to have an airport to serve the peninsula. (OAK serves the east bay, and SJC serves the south bay). It is possible to have OAK and SJC take over more of SFO's traffic, but SFO is a very large airport compared to either of the others.

        • The runways and taxiways are pretty easy to deal with as long as it is less than about an inch per decade-- just a little extra asphalt. Even the drainage systems for an airport are fairly manageable; you will need to add more pump stations, but not rocket science.

          Where it gets tricky is low-lying building structures like utility tunnels where a couple extra inches of hydrostatic pressure is enough to flood. Then, as you pump out water you add to the subsistence.

        • Enjoy your $20 runway surcharge tacked on to every flight in and out of that airport. And don't think for a second that cost burden won't be shared.

          There are so many fees tacked onto every flight right now that nobody's going to notice an extra $20 for runways in San Francisco.

          But there's a better alternative - just let the city sink, taking its uniquely poisonous political influence with it.

      • But you can build runways up if you need to; it's not hard.

        Yes, especially when we're talking three or four inches over 80+ years. It's not like routine runway repairs won't deal with the problem....

      • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @01:59PM (#56234333)

        SFO airport is indeed at sea level-- it's right on the bay.

        Don't worry . . . Über Swim will still be able to service the submerged airport.

        But you can build runways up if you need to; it's not hard.

        Who needs runways, when you can use Ground Effect . . . ?

        Russia is already prepared to service the Aqua-Airport:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • There won't be much impact.

        Try riding a bicycle in 2 feet of water. Sure you're dry when you're at the top of some hill, but unless you only stay on a single hill all your life you're doing to have to go lower, sometimes down to sea level.

        If SF's government were ran by competent Dutch people instead of morons this situation would not be nearly as concerning.

      • The problem can be deferred for a very long time with a tidal barrier under or near the Golden Gate Bridge.

      • Most if not all wastewater treatment facilities are located in low-lying coastal areas. Such facilities already frequently fail whenever there is excessive storm water drainage (from heavy storms), releasing untreated sewage into the bay.

        Imagine the cost of having to completely replace all these treatment facilities at a time when all these other things are already going critical.

        Another sad thing will be the loss of a lot of the protected wildlife habitat zones which exist around the bay. That they were

  • Just need to put a wall and lock system across the span where the Golden Gate bridge is. Problem solved!
    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @12:54PM (#56233937)

      And we will get the Water to Pay for it!

      • by Kenja ( 541830 )

        And we will get the Water to Pay for it!

        Don't be silly... the Kaiju will pay for it.

      • by Whibla ( 210729 )

        Or you could get a consortium of concerned individuals to invest in making the suggested infrastructure into a tidal lagoon, albeit one that won't benefit from the full tidal range - for obvious reasons. Selling the generated electricity, green electricity at that if you ignore ecosystem changes, would cover the capital costs in about 40-50 years*.

        *Numbers based partly on numbers from a suggested local scheme and partly pulled out of my arse because of peak flow restrictions based on having to cap inflows t

  • by McGregorMortis ( 536146 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @12:52PM (#56233919)

    "Subsidence is a great driver of our economy." - SF Bay Gondoliers Association

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @12:58PM (#56233967)

    If you look at the base data [sciencemag.org] from the study, you can find the images for projected innovation at 2100 - it's not that much, mostly down at the end of the bay. Considering we are talking about nearly a hundred years for this change to occur there is a LOT of time to adapt - either by raising the land at risk (we are talking about just a meter of sea level change at worst in the most likely scenario), or building seawalls at the end of the bay the way the Netherlands has done.

    San Francisco itself, is of course quite hilly as anyone who has ever visited knows, and is hardly impacted at all.

    One final flaw in this study is the reoccurring flaw, they present a doomsday scenario that is "if nothing is done". But they totally do not account for the inevitable shift to solar/electric for power and transportation that will increase dramatically in the coming decades. This shifts all of the predictions to the low end in reality as the most likely scenario, by quite a lot in fact.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2018 @01:28PM (#56234123)

      Plus they are not accounting for the fact that clean coal is a game changer and will result in major reductions in greenhouse gasses.

    • Your "base data" is about global warming, the article is about: "The problem is a geological phenomenon called subsidence." A sinking continental shelf. I guess the first one you can combat with CO2 free energy, the later not.

      • Follow links much? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SuperKendall ( 25149 )

        My "base data" is from the study the article is based upon, brainiac.

        Maybe you should try following the links and reading the actual study/data instead of thinking with your fingers?

        Subsidence is a comparatively minor factor and in no way warrants the screaming doom headlines. The study is saying because of subsidence, somewhat more land may be at risk than previously thought, and tries to lay out what that might be... the data I point to and the points I make refer to the areas affected AFTER subsidence i

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      The rise of solar doesn't automatically spell the decline of oil and gas. That will come down to what works cheapest in the shockingly poor rural areas of India and China. Places where today the air quality is so bad that on a bad day you can barely see across the street. Hopefully, there will be some new kind of solar that really is that cheap, and not dependent on any long-logistics-chain maintenance, but that's just hope.

      • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @03:40PM (#56234977)

        That will come down to what works cheapest in the shockingly poor rural areas of India and China.

        I've been to really poor rural villages (like village uses a single well for water poor) in China and already see a lot of solar panels, also electric scooters. Because what ends up being really cheap is something you never have to travel to fuel.. a poor village is willing to wait a long time for chargers to charge up whatever.

        In the end solar is by far the cheapest path for rural areas and electric motors are way easier to manufacture than combustion engines.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          That's promising. While industrial consumption will no doubt stay "fossil fuels" for quite some time, that's already high (especially in China). It's personal (residential/commuter) consumption that will explode in size as India and China modernize, and if that ends up going solar, so much the better.

          Long term, there's little to argue about: only solar (and possibly fission if that ever stops being "20 years away") scales to 10-12 billion people consuming power at US rates. We really need a dense, therma

    • Yes, until you realize that with current sea level there is a lot of damage from flooding at king tides when it rains in those areas. Raising that up 1m pushes the impacted areas inland significantly; even 10cm can have a huge impact.

      Part of what people don't always realize is that when you pull water out of the ground (french drain around your foundation as an example) you are removing both water mass and dirt mass and that ultimately leads to lowering the elevation of the surrounding ground. The leaning

    • No, this will have an impact, but mostly on the people who insist on building on eroding soil near the water.

      Personally, I have no sympathy for those people anyway. And I just wish that our tax dollars didn't subsidize their insurance.

  • 'Oh the land is going down a millimetre a year,' and that can be kind of unimpressive," says William Hammond, a researcher at the University of Nevada Reno who studies subsidence (but was not involved in this particular project). "But we know as scientists that these motions, especially if they come from plate tectonics, that they are relentless and they will never stop, at least as long as we're alive on this planet."

    Actually as scientists we know that's not true provided we hang around for long enough (several hundred million years) as some other species have managed to. Plate tectonics can also uplift land and is responsible for mountain building. As new plates form and others merge the effects in one location can change....but you will need to hold your breath, literally, for a few million years or more (or, on that timescale, evolve gills) so it's not particularly helpful!

  • by pipingguy ( 566974 ) on Friday March 09, 2018 @01:19PM (#56234093)

    Are house prices declining as a result of this?

  • "...a lot more dire..." is that even English?

    What's on from there, "totally humongously dire, dude!" ?

    Is Trump editing /. now?

    My lawn - you know what to do.

  • The article could have just as easily said "Coastal developments, including San Francisco Airport, that were build on landfill are sinking and may need remediation to prevent flooding in the future".

    The study says "However, rates exceed 10 mm/year in some areas underlain by compacting artificial landfill and Holocene mud deposits.", which means it is sinking a lot faster than the water is rising.

  • Many parts of the city are built on alluvial silt dredged up from the bay (e.g. the Marina District), so yeah... it's going to sink. But that's only the areas that are a few feet above sea level to begin with.
  • The globe is getting warmer and climates are changing and it's real.

    But this level of fear-mongering is not helpful and diminishes our side of the argument. At this point anyone who argues that the world isn't getting warmer is seen as an idiot. Anyone who argues that it's not humanities fault is a blowhard. The current debates are how bad it's going to be and what we can do about it.

    at a rate of less than 2 millimeters a year -- and while that may not sound like a lot, the millimeters can add up fast.

    No. It doesn't. It adds up at a rate of 2mm/year. That is not fast. It's not compound. There is no interest.

    San Fran has 10

  • Put a dam across the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, the further West the better. Drain most of the Bay (leaving a few canals for the rivers to flow into) and reclaim the land.
    This would solve SF's housing problem by providing lots of new land to build on, and it'll shorten the coastline, making it much easier to fortify against the rising sea level.

    • Put a dam across the mouth of the San Francisco Bay,

      Or go back to the other plan: fill in the Bay completely.

      But seriously, this isn't so drastic. Worst case a tidal barrier (as London has on the Thames) would defer the issue for a very long time.

  • As a full-service Sanctuary City, they're simply adding an Aquatic Sanctuary.

  • First Airport was in 1910 (approx) It's been 110 years. Will the SF Airport be relevant in 100 years?

    Airports are already overcrowded, bottlenecked, and supposedly terrorist targets. The current model has a LOT of problems. Would you really expect the current model to still be relevant in 100 years?

    As with all climate change discussions, I wonder why we're so interested in maintaining the status quo. Let's try something different. ;)

    • Good point, hookers and blow it is.

    • As with all climate change discussions, I wonder why we're so interested in maintaining the status quo. Let's try something different. ;)

      I assume you're being facetious, but it's an interesting point.

      The elusive "Northwest Passage" is becoming a reality. This would allow ships to travel from the Northeastern US and Europe to, say, Japan (or vice-versa) far more efficiently than going through the Panama canal, around South America, or around Africa. Of course, this might also mean that winters in the midwestern part of the US become much colder, which means it costs more to heat people's houses, government buildings, etc.

      The "issue" with cl

  • Did I read that right? 2 mm * 82 years = 6.5 inches or so. Is that amount really going to cause runways to be flooded?

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake

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