The edges of Humboldt Bay are on the verge of being overrun by the sea. It laps at the boundaries of Highway 101, surrounds the Arcata Marsh, and sneaks around the corners of low-lying industrial areas in Eureka. 


Humboldt’s location at the end of the Cascadia Subduction Zone makes the area more vulnerable to sea level rise than any other location on the California coast. Due to its position in a very active tectonic area and the specific activity of the surrounding plates, the Humboldt County region is steadily sinking, or subsiding. 

The Humboldt Bay Vertical Reference System Working Group is a research group focused on identifying geology’s role in Humboldt Bay sea level rise. In a 2017 report, they found that land subsidence contributes to sea level rise 2 to 3 times more in Humboldt County than anywhere else in California. Of the 18 inch rise in sea levels that has occurred locally in the past century, an estimated 50% is due to tectonic subsidence.

“The ocean isn’t rising any faster off of our coast than it is down in San Francisco, but we have subsidence that the rest of California doesn’t have,” said environmental planning consultant Aldaron Laird. 

Laird has been an essential part of local sea level rise risk assessment and adaptation planning over the last decade, consulting with Humboldt County and various local districts. 


Humboldt County has commissioned many reports which assess the risk that sea level rise poses to infrastructure and communities. These contextualize what different levels of sea level rise will mean, and suggest possible adaptation measures. However, the reports do not implement the adaptation measures.

The most recent grant-funded project to tackle this issue concluded in 2019, yet none of the recommendations from that, or any other report, have been implemented. 

An area that the reports do not touch on is the potential for industrial contamination in the bay as sea level rise reaches new areas.

In her career as an environmental advocate, Jennifer Kalt has observed the local government’s lackluster reaction to the threat of sea level rise for years. 

“What I have seen as a repeating theme is a lot of local jurisdictions getting grant money to develop plans and then there isn’t a plan,” said Kalt. “It’s a little depressing to see so much planning lead to nothing.”

Michael Richardson is a supervising planner of long range planning in the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department, which is responsible for sea level rise adaptation planning. He said that the county would like to decide on terms of collaboration with other local jurisdictions before they plan to implement any sea level rise adaptation measures. Simply put, they don’t have immediate plans to do anything specific.

“There would be a different process to go forward with getting the cities and the county on the same page and whatever agreements need to be made,” said Richardson. “What that plan looks like is what we’re still figuring out.”

Kalt doesn’t think that the pace at which the government is moving on this issue will make a difference in time. In addition to protecting residential areas, she said that their focus should be on relocating key infrastructure. 

“I’m concerned that a lot of the agencies that need to address these problems, there’s not a lot of political will to do what needs to be done,” said Kalt.

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Last week, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-02) visited Egypt as part of the congressional delegation for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 27.

Huffman was able to share the progress Humboldt County has made on its proposed offshore wind farm, which he supports, but noted that Humboldt County also needs to focus on forest and coastal resilience in addition to mitigating the effects of sea level rise and maintaining healthy, carbon-sequestering soils.

“No one should wait for the UN, or Congress or any other institution at the national or global level to solve this problem. We don’t have time for that,” Huffman said. “Frankly, even the best agreements at those levels are going to need people and communities at the sub-national level doing their part.”

Every year since the Paris Agreement, the unenforceable 2016 pledge from many nations, including the largest polluters, has seen record-setting temperatures across the world.

In Humboldt County, climate change presents a physical and financial threat to residents in addition to the hazards faced by wildlife. High levels of toxic domoic acid in 2014 delayed Dungeness crabbing season and increased whale entanglements when the season opened later than usual during the whales’ migratory period, said Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper, a local environmental nonprofit.

“That led to new regulations for crabbing, which was arguably the last reliable commercial fishery for the Humboldt Bay fishing fleet,” Kalt said.
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Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a $4.2 million award for a four-year study on Dungeness crab and krill that will bring together researchers and experts from coastal tribes, public universities and federal agencies from Northern California to Washington.

Climate change has been exacerbating existing marine environmental stressors through changes in temperatures, ocean chemistry and seasonal cycles.

The ocean absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere, primarily from human activity. Increases in the gas in the ocean have led to rising acidity. Studies have shown as acidity rises, shellfish struggle to maintain hardy shells, their growth slows, and death rates rise.
There’s plenty of research and real-world evidence that confirms climate change is hurting marine species, said Jack Barth, executive director of the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State University.

The blob, a marine heat wave that wreaked havoc on Northwest fisheries during 2015 and 2016, led to seabird die-off, poor salmon returns and dozens of closures.

“We’ve had these catastrophic events like the heat blob and things that are showing us that things are changing,” Hagen said, “and they’re not changing incrementally.”

But scientists still don’t have a good handle on how organisms are affected by multiple stressors. What happens when crabs are faced with algal blooms, low oxygen and warm water?

Researchers hope to start to figure that out in the next four years.

They plan to map out where the lowest concentrations of oxygen lie and where the warm water is, and find where these stressors intersect to make life even more hostile for the species, said Richard Feely, senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

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As efforts to bring an offshore wind development to the Humboldt County coast ramp up, local stakeholders are vying to get a big ol’ slice of that offshore wind pie.

There will be inevitable impacts associated with the development, especially for folks living along the Samoa Peninsula where the terminal will be built and wind turbine construction, assembly and staging will take place.

To mitigate potential impacts, BOEM offers a little something called a bid credit package. In this case, to qualify for the credit package the bidder “must commit to mak[ing] a qualifying monetary contribution to programs or initiatives” that benefit the greater Humboldt County community.
Eureka City Council representative and soon-to-be Fourth District Humboldt County Supervisor Natalie Arroyo called for robust engagement with Samoa residents in particular. 

“We are pleased to see a General CBA credit, but the [five percent] doesn’t go far enough in addressing our region’s unique needs,” Katerina Oskarsson, a spokesperson for CORE Hub and the Network, told the Outpost. “We do not want to see the industry repeating the same boom-and-bust cycles that have created a legacy of underinvestment in our region. To be effective, community benefits must be designed by our communities, for our communities.”

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This morning, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District has announced a partnership with a private company — Crowley Wind Services — to build a full-service facility to support offshore wind development all along the West Coast.
The development would happen at the district’s Marine Terminal II — a.k.a., the old pulp mill property in Samoa, which it acquired in 2013 — and would be located next to the planned Nordic Aquafarms onshore Atlantic salmon factory.

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Click HERE to see the site map.