Global Warming Arrives at West San Francisco

There is no West San Francisco, of course, only the western edge of San Francisco on the not-so-Pacific Ocean. Trouble arrived there some time ago. It came slowly at first, more rapidly lately.

Much of the city is built on loose sand, including large parts along the ocean. There’s a pleasant limited-speed highway, called The Great Highway, that runs in a straight line nearly the whole length of Ocean Beach. It’s always been a problem, because the persistent wind tends to blow sand eastward, filling the roadway. Sometimes the Great Highway is closed until the sand can be put back on the beach. Much of that problem was solved by the construction of dunes, which are anchored by Dutch grass (I believe it’s called), which has very long and stable roots. But the sand still blows. Worse than that, the waves are eating away at the beach itself. In this Google Earth image, you can see where the water threatens to eat up the highway at the end of Ortega Street.

Further south, this problem has become more severe. In one spot the highway actually had to be shifted eastward, because the ocean had eroded right up to the edge of the pavement.

This is not the only problem. South of SF, in Pacifica and elsewhere, the land is higher, ending in an abrupt cliff at water’s edge. These cliffs, like much of SF, are soft, and the endless waves and wind have been eroding them ever faster. Homes in some places that were built a football field away from the cliffs are now in danger of falling into the water. Some were condemned because it was impossible to save them.

If this happens when the ocean
rises only an inch, what will happen
when it rises a foot?

Yet the ocean has risen only an inch or so lately. What will happen when it rises a foot? Or ten feet? Obviously, a lot more, and San Francisco and most other coastal cities will simply lose their most low-lying areas. On San Francisco Bay there are numerous homes built on fill that are only a few feet above the water level. They won’t suffer the same ocean wave erosion, but most of them will eventually end up under water regardless.

Directly across the country in the Carolinas, where people have built homes right on the Atlantic Ocean beach, houses have been moved inland once or twice until the owners gave up, and some have been simply washed away. The problem is the same. Some waterfront hotels in Florida would crash into the surf if it weren’t for the hundreds of truckloads of sand that are regularly dumped in front of them.

We’ll soon enough know what will happen when the ocean rises a foot or two. One thing more: How long will it be before the last climate change denier admits to his folly?


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