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Climate Change

Ocean Protection Council’s climate change program includes work on sea-level rise, ocean acidification and hypoxia, and coastal sediment management.

Coastal Readiness for Storms and Sea-level Rise

Image courtesy of Sam Iacobellis, CNAP RISA Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Climate change has already caused 8 inches of sea-level rise at the San Francisco tidal gauge and scientists project an additional 3 to 5.5 feet or more of rising sea levels by 2100, within the lifetime of kids today.  These higher water levels amplify the flooding that occurs during El Nino periods and coastal storms.

Vision of Successful Adaptation

California has been taking action for over a decade now to change the way that we govern, in order to implement a vision of successful adaptation to sea-level rise and storms:

The coast of California in 2050 is a place that those who live here love and those who come to visit can’t wait to come back to.  It is a changing coast as the ocean rises and our coastal climate continues to warm.  But it is a place that also bustles with life: vibrant communities, with diverse people who make a good living in coastal towns and cities, in coastal agriculture and fishing, in flourishing industries and well-functioning sea ports that provide wealth to the entire state and the nation; tourists come for our coast’s wild and rich coastal and ocean environment and for the many unique species who share this area with us; local residents continue to have free and easy access to our beaches and water, and that water is clean for swimming, surfing, fishing and drinking.  In this way, it is how it has been for generations; countless people attracted to the shore by strong economies, gorgeous vistas, an incomparable environment, and communities with vibrant and diverse cultures. 

And yet something is markedly different along that coast of 2050, too: people are aware of and understand that the climate is changing.  They have shifted to clean energy sources, get around in bike- and walk-friendly communities to work and play by public transportation and non-polluting cars if they need wheels.   They have come to accept that the climatic stability of the past is no longer our current reality.  They have adopted a preparedness culture: governments plan ahead with longer foresight, quickly and efficiently respond to local crises; and households and businesses, too, do their part in being ready for storms and floods, for heat waves and droughts, for wildfires and health threats when they arise.  Life goes on, but we work together for the greater good: the coastal California and Bay Area we all love and want to pass on to our children.

OPC Adopted a Resolution on Implementation of the Safeguarding California Plan for Reducing Climate Risks: An Update to the 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy.

At the August 27th OPC meeting, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution with a policy directive for state entities and non-state entities with projects using state funds or on state lands, to reduce climate risks to coastal and ocean resources.  The resolution also directed OPC staff to work on key recommendations in the Safeguarding California Plan, including working with the State Coastal Leadership Group on Sea-level Rise to develop a concise visionary action plan.

New Resources for Responding to Coastal Climate Change in California

Building on the growing momentum to address climate change impacts to coastal California, there are many funding, training and capacity-building events upcoming. These include the California Adaptation Forum, a free workshop on Sea-level Rise and Shoreline Change Planning Tools, 4th Climate Assessment Public Meetings, CivicSpark Climate Readiness Teams for Capacity-building for Local Governments in CA, the Kresge Foundation Initiative for Climate-Resilience for Low-income People, the State Coastal Conservancy Climate Ready Grant Program, and Local Technical Assistance Grants for Climate Change Impacts to Economic Development. Click here to learn more.

Local Coastal Program (LCP) grants – staff recommendations are being presented at the December OPC meeting.

Funding was available through two coordinated grant programs. Grants awards were approved by the Coastal Commission and the OPC at their November and December meetings respectively.

  • Ocean Protection Council (OPC) LCP Sea-level Rise Grant Program: $1.2 million available for work that supports LCP updates specifically to address sea-level rise, including sea-level rise modeling, vulnerability assessments, and adaptation planning and policy development.
  • Coastal Commission LCP Planning Assistance Grant Program: $1 million available for updating and certifying LCPs; may include updates to address impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

The OPC, Coastal Commission, and State Coastal Conservancy worked together to manage these two separate grant programs.  To simplify the process for applicants, and streamline the review of the proposals, these two programs offered a joint application (application period closed on July 7, 2014).

For more information on the grant program, please contact:

  • OPC LCP Sea-level Rise Grant Program– Abe Doherty,
  • Coastal Commission LCP Planning Assistance Grant Program– Hilary Papendick, Statewide LCP Grant Coordinator, or (415) 904-5294

In addition, the OPC continues to engage in interagency coordination on climate change issues through the Coastal and Ocean Working Group of the California Climate Action Team (CO-CAT). On March 15, 2013 OPC staff presented an update to the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document. The purpose of the SLR Guidance is to help state agencies incorporate future sea-level rise impacts into planning decisions, and was recently updated to include the best current science, as summarized in the final report from the National Academy of Sciences, Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The OPC is also an active member of  the Climate Change Action Coordination Team of the West Coast Governors’ Alliance (WCGA Climate Change ACT), a tri-state (CA, OR, WA) coordinating body that addresses various ocean issues.  All of these entities helped fund the aforementioned National Academies study on Sea-Level Rise and the West Coast.

The WCGA Climate Change ACT using support and funding by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has develop a searchable resource to identify funding opportunities pertaining to climate change including sea-level rise, coastal hazards, and other pertinent issues. The Ocean and Coastal Climate Change Funding Wizard is now live and available for a wide variety of stakeholders to utilize. The Funding Wizard allows users to filter using categories, show only new funding opportunities, and even save searches that are updated each time the site is visited. Please add any relevant grants to the catalog to help provide funding opportunities along the West Coast.

Citizen Science Projects and Sea-Level Rise

Several efforts are in place in California that strive to have citizens using photographs to document the tidal level, king tides, storm surge, flooding hazards, and other conditions concerning the boundary of the ocean and coastline. These photos can be used to calibrate sea-level rise and flood models, as well as provide unique detailed information on coastal resources that are currently or will be impacted by flooding.

Planning for Sea-Level Rise Database

In an effort to catalog California’s efforts on planning for sea-level rise, last year the Planning for Sea-Level Rise Database bill (AB2516, Gordon) was passed into law. This legislation called for the California Natural Resources Agency in collaboration with the Ocean Protection Council to conduct a survey of “sea-level rise planning information”, defined as “studies, programs, modeling, mapping, cost-benefit analyses, vulnerability assessments, adaptation, assessments, and local coastal programs . . . that have been developed for the purposes of addressing or preparing for sea level rise” (Public Resources Code Division 20.6 §30961-30968).


Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia

Ocean acidification and hypoxia, two phenomena often coupled for a variety of biological and oceanographic reasons, have the potential for profound impacts on living marine resources. Scientists have already demonstrated serious impacts on shell-building organisms, among others, and severe effects on the shellfish industry have been documented in the Pacific Northwest. In California, resource managers, stakeholders, tribes and citizens are beginning to express concerns about these emerging threats to local ecosystems, communities, and coastal economies.

Ocean Protection Council and Partner Efforts to Address Complex Processes

California is uniquely situated to advance collective understanding about ocean acidification and hypoxia and to use this knowledge to inform multiple management strategies. The California Ocean Protection Council and the California Ocean Science Trust are working hand-in-hand to elevate attention to ocean acidification and hypoxia in several arenas. Through its Cabinet-level leadership, the Ocean Protection Council is working both within the state and with West Coast leaders to identify appropriate responses to these coast-wide phenomena. This work is exemplified by the interdisciplinary West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, convened at the request of the Ocean Protection Council by the California Ocean Science Trust to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions.

California’s investment in a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) provides opportunities to study the early impacts of ocean acidification, hypoxia and other stressors, while bolstering the resilience of California’s ocean ecosystems in the face of these emerging threats. The Ocean Protection Council and the Ocean Science Trust are positioned at the nexus between science and policy, and this collaboration brings emerging science to bear on evolving policy and management responses within California and across the West Coast. Several key efforts are described below.

A West Coast Leadership Priority

The Pacific Coast Collaborative and West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health recognize ocean acidification as a priority ocean and coastal health issue, given the added vulnerability of the West Coast. In December 2013, the West Coast Governors and the Premier of British Columbia mobilized to provide a joint letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in fulfillment of an initial action called for in the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy to enlist support for research on ocean acidification. This letter raises awareness of ocean acidification at the highest levels, promotes the collaborative efforts and leadership from the West Coast, and requests specific action and enhanced support from our federal partners. In response, a convening of state, provincial, and federal leaders to develop a joint strategy to address ocean acidification and hypoxia is currently being planned for later in 2014. The OPC Executive Director is in close contact with counterparts in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia on this issue.

West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel

OAH Panel LogoAt its September 13, 2012 public meeting, the OPC formally charged the OPC Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), under the leadership of the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), with convening a high-level ocean acidification and hypoxia science panel to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions. Recognizing the west coast-wide nature of the potential impacts, the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel is composed of leading scientists from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia who will look for driving mechanisms that are common to the entire Pacific coast. The Panel will build upon the work of the Washington State Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel, address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions, and identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a west coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia.

California Current Acidification Network

Photo Credit: Henry Wolcott

C-CAN is an interdisciplinary collaboration among managers, scientists, and industry working to coordinate and enhance acidification monitoring along the entire west coast. The OPC Science Advisor (OST Executive Director) and several of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panelists participate on the C-CAN Steering Committee. C-CAN works with the regional ocean observing system associations, including the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CenCOOS) and the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS), to coordinate and encourage development of an acidification monitoring network for that serves publicly available data through the sharing of resources. C-CAN has produced a vision document describing how this data could be used by the management community, as well as a core principles document that describes the elements of a comprehensive and efficient monitoring network.

Supporting Scientific Partnerships to Enhance Understanding

The OPC has committed support to improve scientific understanding of acidification and hypoxia and the impacts to biological resources. The OPC is funding research through California Sea Grant to provide insights into effects of the upwelling of acidic waters and implications for shellfish along the California coast, and recently approved funding for scientists to perform integrated modeling of acidification, hypoxia, and nutrient inputs in the coastal ocean. The project will enhance current regional oceanographic modeling systems enabling a more comprehensive and consistent evaluation of both anthropogenic and climatic perturbations on near-shore physical, chemical, and biological conditions.

Guidance and Policy Resources

The OPC has taken steps to fund key studies, assist with policy and guidance, and staff initiatives to address a wide-range of climate change-related topics, as listed below:

Funded Projects

Coordination and Collaboration

Related Links


Climate Change News

Updating the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document

The State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document, initially adopted in 2010 and updated in 2013, provides guidance to state agencies for incorporating sea-level rise projections into planning, permitting, investment and other decisions. Now, the California Ocean Protection Council and the California Natural Resources Agency, in collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, California Energy Commission, and the California Ocean Science Trust, are updating this statewide guidance to reflect recent advances in ice loss science and projections of sea-level rise. The updated guidance will focus on the needs of state agencies and local governments. It will help cities and counties as they comply with a new law that requires them to incorporate climate change into their planning efforts.  The updated guidance document will also assist state agencies prepare for, and adapt to climate change, as directed by Governor Brown’s recent Executive Order.

We will be soliciting feedback on a draft policy guidance framework during four public workshops across the state:

South Coast ⋅ Tuesday, May 16 ⋅ 1 pm – 4 pm
Environmental Learning Center at Hyperion
12000 Vista Del Mar, Playa Del Rey, CA 90293

Bay Area ⋅ Monday, May 22 ⋅ 1:30 pm – 5 pm *
455 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102
*a Safeguarding California Workshop will take place here earlier in the day at 9:30am – 12:30 pm

North Coast ⋅ Thursday, June 8 ⋅ 9 am – 12 pm
Sequoia Conference Center
901 Myrtle Avenue, Eureka, CA 95501

San Diego ⋅ Monday, June 12 ⋅ 1:30 pm – 5 pm
University of San Diego
Mother Rosalie Hall, Warren Auditorium
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110


For more information, please see Updating the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document

Ocean Protection Council leads the effort in California to take action against ocean acidification

At an event this week in Coronado, CA, the Ocean Protection Council took the lead for California to forge a groundbreaking partnership between California, Oregon, Washington and several international partners that committed to protecting coastal communities from the threat of rising ocean acidity.