The Humboldt Bay area is experiencing the fastest rate of relative sea level rise on the West Coast. That's because tectonic activity is causing the ground beneath the bay is sinking at the same rate the ocean is rising. According to the California Ocean Protection Council's 2018 projections, sea level in the Humboldt Bay area is expected to rise 1 foot by 2030, 2 feet by 2050, and 3 feet by 2060. In late 2021, scientists reported that Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is likely to collapse within 5 to 10 years, which could result in an additional 2 to 10.8 feet in sea level rise. The primary impacts from sea level rise are increases in flooding and erosion. Sea level rise will expand the area vulnerable to flooding during major storms, as well as in the rare but catastrophic event of a major tsunami. The term 100-year flood is used as a standard for planning, insurance, and environmental analysis. People, infrastructure, and property are already located in areas vulnerable to flooding from a 100-year event. Sea level rise will cause more frequent—and more damaging—floods to those already at risk and will increase the size of the coastal floodplain, placing new areas at risk to flooding.
Scientists, speaking at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans this month, reported that a critical section of the keystone Antarctic glacier, Thwaites Glacier, will likely collapse in the next five to ten years. The research, led by Erin Pettit of Oregon State University, predicts that the Thwaites ice shelf will break apart within the next decade because of startling increases in surface fractures and rifts.Thwaites Glacier is one the largest Antarctic glaciers, comparable to the size of Great Britain or Florida. Meltwater from Thwaites alone is responsible for 4% of global sea level rise, leading it to receive a great deal of scientific attention in recent years.The nickname ‘Antarctica’s doomsday glacier’ is given to Thwaites because if the ice shelf collapses, the glacier and the enormous volumes of ice upstream that funnel into the glacier will no longer be restrained from accelerating into the ocean. “It is the potential long-term effect on the rest of the grounded ice sheet that we need to consider,” explains Anne Le Brocq, a senior lecturer in physical geography at the University of Exeter. If the entire glacier were to melt then global sea levels would rise by 65 centimeters, or about two feet. If Thwaites Glacier, and other critical neighboring glaciers such as Pine Island Glacier, cannot hold back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds the equivalent of 3.3 meters (10.8 feet) in sea level, then it could affect coastlines across the world.Read More
Anyone who has ever driven south on U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka during a storm at high tide can't help but notice how close the water comes to the highway. Sea level rise, which scientists assure us is now inevitable, will only make things worse. The only questions are how much worse and when. If and when the ocean covers the 101 corridor between Eureka and Arcata, nobody will be able to say the issue hadn't been on Caltrans' radar. Whether the agency will have actually done anything, however, remains to be seen.Aldaron Laird of Trinity Associates says the Ocean Protection Council's 2018 sea level rise projections indicate planners should expect the waters along the U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor to rise a foot by 2030, 1.6 feet by 2040, 2.3 feet by 2050 and 3.1 feet by 2060. Some believe those projections are already outdated. The lowest point on the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 101, meanwhile, sits about 2 feet above peak high tide levels.
Hank Seemann, deputy director of environmental services for the Humboldt County Public Works Department, explained the intricate process of planning a workable project. Although the county does not own or operate the freeway — that is Caltrans' domain — it is responsible for several miles of adjacent land that are equally vulnerable to sea level rise. The two agencies will need to work closely together to find solutions that benefit both.
But more work remains: 37 tons of nuclear waste are in an eroding bluff near King SalmonFollowing a years-long effort to decommission the former nuclear power plant in Humboldt Bay, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. recently filed a request with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to terminate the power plant’s license marking a “major milestone” for the Humboldt County community.Decommissioning efforts for the Humboldt Bay Power Plant Unit 3, a 63-Megawatt electric boiling water reactor, began in June 2009, more than 30 years after the power plant had ceased operations. It operated from 1963 to 1976 and was permanently defueled in 1984.At the time of the power plant’s construction, atomic energy was hailed as the solution to global energy needs. Cost-efficient construction methods and innovative engineering made the power plant “the first economically viable, privately funded nuclear power plant in the world,” according to documentation from the Library of Congress.At this point, the site has been remediated to levels “meeting an extensive set of standards and release criteria for a post-industrial, ‘residential farming’ use,” according to PG&E. “The ‘resident farmer’ scenario is the most restrictive level for remediation in (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) guidance for decommissioning former nuclear reactor sites.”However, the work is not over. Buried deep into Buhne Point, a highland bluff directly northeast of King Salmon, is an underground nuclear waste storage facility known as the Humboldt Bay Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, or ISFSI. While the ISFSI will effectively contain the 37-tons of nuclear waste for approximately 50 years, it is not a permanent solution.“The projections indicate that the sea level will be four feet higher in 50 years than it is today,” said Jennifer Kalt, Humboldt Baykeeper director. “The ISFSI is on the top of an eroding bluff, it’s 44-feet above sea level, it’s buried to 30 feet below the surface, so the bottom is only 10 feet above sea level currently. …What are we going to do, you know? It’s pretty clear that there needs to be a plan to at least move it back from the bay, it’s going to be really expensive and controversial, but leaving it there is not a plan. It’s a nightmare.”It won’t be easy, but Kalt said there needs to be a community process in deciding where to relocate the ISFSI. “It is essential for the community advisory board to continue meeting but we also want the community involved and not just experts researching it,” she said.
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A new study on high tide flooding predicts that the mid-2030s could be catastrophically wet in U.S. coastal regions — and it could stay that way for an entire decade. Led by members of the NASA Sea Level Change Team from the University of Hawaii, the study says that high tide flooding could happen more frequently on several U.S. coasts. Flooding at high tide, often called nuisance flooding, already occurs with regularity in many coastal communities as water routinely sloshes into streets, yards and businesses. Two factors could converge to worsen flooding at high tide, the study says: rising sea levels fueled by climate change — and the moon. The moon's orbit is due for its regular "wobble." That is entirely natural, NASA says, and it has been recorded as far back as 1728. Half of the moon's 18.6-year cycle creates lower high tides and higher low tides; the other creates higher high tides and even lower low tides. Read More
As the world celebrates Earth Day 2021, local experts warn the historic Arcata dikes holding back Humboldt Bay will be overtopped monthly, possibly in as soon as 30 years, due to rising sea level from climate change. "There is no stopping sea level rise for the next century or next couple of centuries," said Aldaron Laird, an environmental planner specializing in local sea level rise who is currently working with Greenway Partners on several local projects. "It's just going to keep right on going." Wiyot Tribe Natural Resource Specialist Adam Canter said Arcata has a site on McDaniel Slough that is at risk — one of 52 Indigenous cultural sites around Humboldt Bay that could be inundated in the coming decades. Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, identified three sites in Arcata that are at risk of tidal inundation in the coming decades that have tested positive for dioxin contamination: one on Janes Creek, another on Butchers Slough and the former Little Lakes Industries site off I Street near the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Last year the Arcata City Council voted to submit an application for a federal assessment grant of $300,000 for the same property and received the grant earlier this year.Last year the Arcata City Council voted to submit an application for a federal assessment grant of $300,000 for the same property and received the grant earlier this year.Arcata Community Development Director David Loya said he is hopeful that the city will get the cleanup grant and the cleanup will begin as early as this fall, but he anticipates next summer is more likely.Read More