Sea level is rising more rapidly in the Humboldt Bay region than in any other place on the US West Coast. Cal Poly Humboldt’s Center for Sea Level Rise has been looking at the implications and last Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle gave us feature treatment.Sea level is rising more rapidly in the Humboldt Bay region than in any other place on the US West Coast. Cal Poly Humboldt’s Center for Sea Level Rise has been looking at the implications and last Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle gave us feature treatment.
Sea level rise became news in the 1970s. Studies were published and in 1988 the UN formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed. Since 1993, satellite altimetry has provided a global picture of the rising oceans. The current estimate of average sea level rise is 3.4 millimeters (.13 inches) per year. There is no gray area here, it is a measured fact.
But the ocean isn’t a bathtub, and the rise is not uniform, rising more rapidly in some areas and dropping in others. How water level changes locally is a function of many variables. The three most important are thermal expansion, the supply of water, and deformation of the sea floor.
Water expands as it warms. A warmer ocean raises sea level with no additional water. Expansion rates are complex and depend on salinity, temperature, and pressure. There are seasonal changes and longer ones. Thermal expansion in strong El Niño years can raise the background tide levels by nearly a foot.
Added water comes from three main sources: valley glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet, and the Antarctic ice sheet. I called them the three dominos when I taught about sea level rise. Alas, the valley glaciers are nearly gone and much of their contribution is already in the ocean. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is well underway and all eyes are now on Antarctica. It will be the primary driver of sea level rise over the next century.
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The proposed Nordic Aquafarms California fish farm project on the Samoa Peninsula lurched forward Aug. 28 as the Board of Supervisors, at the end of a nine-hour meeting, voted unanimously, with Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone absent, to reject an appeal of the project's environmental impact report and grant the company three necessary permits. But the board's action came with some conditions: The company must produce an annual "sustainability report" to track its greenhouse emissions — including those caused by fish food consumption and its fleet of delivery trucks — and it must hold an annual forum to discuss issues that have arisen during the year, while donating a minimum of $25,000 yearly to an "appropriate community project."
In addition, the project's construction must proceed in two phases, and the second phase cannot begin until the first — which includes cleaning and remediating the polluted site it will occupy — is satisfactorily completed.
Nordic is still a long way from breaking ground. It must get additional permits from the California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the National Marine Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it can proceed.
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Anchored by the cities of Eureka and Arcata and known for its redwood forests, cannabis tourism and cool, misty beaches, Humboldt Bay also has an unwelcome distinction: It has the fastest rate of sea level rise on the West Coast.
Tectonic activity is causing the area around the bay roughly 300 miles north of San Francisco to sink, which gives it a rate of sea level rise that is about twice the state average. Compared to 2000, the sea in the area is expected to rise 1 foot by 2030, 2.3 feet by 2050 and 3.1 feet by 2060, according to California Ocean Protection Council.
Residential areas, wastewater treatment plants and a segment of Highway 101 that connects Eureka and Arcata are all at risk — especially when the frequent and intense storms associated with climate change trigger more flooding. There are even long-term worries about a nuclear waste storage facility on the bluffs. Yet the region also has become a test case for how to adapt to a problem that faces all of coastal California, including by restoring wetlands that were filled in for logging and farming in earlier eras.
“We say the bay is going to take back from us what we borrowed for the last hundred years or so,” said Jennifer Kalt, director of the nonprofit group Humboldt Baykeeper and a member of the Cal Poly Humboldt Sea Level Rise Institute.
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Near the end of a roughly seven-hour special meeting on Wednesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors denied an appeal of the environmental report regarding Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula.
The supervisors voted 4-0 with 4th District Supervisor Steve Madrone absent to deny the appeal brought forward by the Redwood Region Audubon Society, 350 Humboldt and the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association who argued that the recently certified environmental impact report inadequately analyzed the scope of several project elements including greenhouse gas emissions and biological concerns.
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Cal Poly Humboldt professor Dr. Laurie Richmond has joined the California Sea Grant Extension Program. Richmond’s work focuses on the human, social and policy dimensions of marine and coastal issues, incorporating different ways of knowing and working with a diverse set of partners and communities.
During her nearly decade at Cal Poly Humboldt, Richmond’s work has focused on a number of marine and coastal issues including fisheries and fishing communities, mariculture, offshore wind development and coastal planning. Recently her research and outreach activities have taken a central focus on sea-level rise planning and adaptation. Her expertise includes informing sea-level rise policies to ensure they’re more just and inclusive for regional communities.
In 2018, Richmond helped launch the Cal Poly Humboldt Sea Level Rise Institute, a partnership between Cal Poly Humboldt and members of the Humboldt community including the Wiyot Tribe, whose traditional homelands encompass Humboldt Bay. Humboldt Bay, also known as Wigi, is experiencing the fastest rate of relative sea-level rise on the U.S. west coast. Richmond currently serves as the co-chair of the institute and is focused on building networks within the regional community to plan and adapt to sea-level rise in a just and equitable way. 
“"Instead of thinking of sea-level rise as a climate challenge, we think about it as an opportunity for creatively rethinking our relationship with the oceans and natural world," Richmond says.  
For Richmond, that means expanding the boundaries of how academia traditionally considers issues surrounding sea-level rise. 
“We're trying to do a little something different than academic institutions,” says Richmond. “It’s viewed as a partnership between us and local tribes and the local community.” 

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