Let's Review: Lecture draws interest for protecting coastline in face of rising seas

The sweltering evening’s heat, following several days of record-breaking temperatures, did not deter the packed (and perspiring) house at birch Aquarium from carefully listening to Reinhard Flick, Ph.D., a researcher/administrator at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who is also chief oceanographer for the California Department of boating and Waterways, member of Center for Coastal Studies, and author of “Living with the Changing California Coast.”

As part of the aquarium’s monthly Jeffery B. Graham Perspectives on Ocean Science lecture series, Flick spoke on Monday Sept. 14 about the rising seas, the impact of the upcoming El Niño and protecting our local coastline.

Flick illustrated his talk with an overwhelming display of colorful and detailed slides, filled with charts, bars and graphs, which made it abundantly clear that something out of the ordinary is taking place on our planet. but although the nature of the changes we are facing is quite serious, Flick took a light-hearted approach and went out of his way to entertain the audience with jokes and witticisms that had everyone chuckling.

Still, there was an underlying tension in the way Flick nervously jiggled his green laser pointer over the slides. With all the funny stories, something important was obscured. Flick missed the chance to provide the audience with a sure-point plan of action for combating global warming that they could take home with them and chew on. As people buoyantly bobbled out of the room following Flick’s clever conclusion, which featured a reading of a robert Frost poem wherein Frost predicts what might happen to our shorelines, there was no time for audience questions. Only a couple of people came to the podium for further discussion with Flick.

These are serious times and people need serious ideas to guide them. Warmer weather and rising sea levels are coming, Flick pointed out. the polar ice caps are continuing to melt and there is daily more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere creating the Greenhouse Gas effect.

That’s the long run. And it’s not that funny. In the short run, the current El Niño, which scientists say has a 95 percent chance of continuing through next spring, will bring more rain, higher seas and coastal flooding our way this winter. Many places, such as the land around San Francisco bay and San Diego bay, may be underwater in the not-so-distant future. A clear vision and a path of action are needed so everyone knows what steps are needed to protect our coasts.

Flick, who was born in Freiburg, Germany, raised in New York City, and educated at Cooper Union in the area of physics, began his talk by praising San Diego’s coastline. He said he came to the West Coast for its sheer beauty and the possibility for year-round research, which motivated him to enroll at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He said he was further influenced by the chance to study the El Niño of 1982-1983.

Flick explained how the movement of the tectonic plates of San Andreas Fault, with an epicenter in Rose Canyon, created our cliffs. The erosion of these cliffs, coupled with the outflow from our streams and creeks, shaped our beautiful sandy beaches.

There have also been some man-made influences on the coast, generated by the construction of harbors, bays, marinas and jetties. For instance, the Silver Strand, which was just a narrow finger of land often overrun by high waves in the 1890s, was built up by sand from the dredging of the bay to accommodate large naval warships. Flick called San Diego’s coastline “young, active and steep” and noted that its beauty is due to the ongoing erosion of its natural features.

The challenge to residents is how to keep the beauty of region in the face of global warming and rising sea levels. Average temperatures are expected to rise some 5 degrees with a predicted 10-meter rise in the sea level for every degree of air temperature increase. Some of the more narrow beaches, such as in front of the Coronado Shores high-rises and Navy SEAL training facility may soon disappear, leading to frequent coastal flooding on high tide and high surf days.

The fact that people, some in high places, have not understood the problem of coastal change is reflected in the Navy’s plan to build a new SEAL training facility in Imperial beach on the low-lying land where the large circular antennae used to be. The project’s Environmental Impact report (EIR), which considers protecting the vernal pools on the property, makes no mention of rising sea levels, which could inundate the facility, even though, according to Flick, the Navy has Scripps Coastal Center’s research predicting rising sea levels.

The good news is that here in La Jolla we are not that bad off. Flick said, “On the whole, La Jolla is in pretty good shape so far because our main beach at La Jolla Shores is fairly wide and the town itself sits on a cliff above the ocean. but people who live close to the water need to consider things on a property-by-property basis. If they experienced any problems with the elements back in 1982-1983, during the last big El Niño, they can expect them again this winter. Concerned people might want to have a geotechnical evaluation of the risks to their property over time.”

Perspectives on Ocean Science lectures are offered 7-8 p.m. second mondays at Birch Aquarium, 2300 Expedition Way. The Oct. 12 lecture, “The Really Big One,” presented by seismologist Diego Melgar, will explore the possibility of a significant earthquake in the Northwest. The Nov. 9 lecture, “Glaciers peak with Tongues of Ice,” by physical oceanographer Grant Deane, will reveal how scientists predict change in the Arctic using data from the sounds made by water and ice. Doors open 6:30 p.m. members: Free. General admission: $8. Students/educators: $5. RSVP: (858) 534-3474. aquarium.ucsd.edu

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