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Rising Sea Levels

Did you know that California State Parks owns more than 280 miles of coastline in the state?

While our world-class beaches (such as Doheny State Beach, pictured here) are great places to surf, play volleyball and build sand castles, they also buffer rising sea levels and winter storms. Volleyball at Doheny State Beach

Global oceans are absorbing more than 80 percent of the heat added to the climate system and they have warmed by .10 degrees C from 1961 to 2003. Heat causes water to expand, and this phenomenon combined with melting ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers has resulted in a sea-level rise of 7 inches along the California coast since 1850. An additional rise of 22-35 inches is predicted by 2100.

As even small rises in sea levels lead to vast expansions of bays and tributaries, and increase the severity of storms, it’s critical that buffers be protected along waterways. State parks are one of the primary vehicles for this land conservation.

Big wave Beaches will see great impacts caused by increased severity of storms, leading to larger, more dangerous waves and storm surges.


Wetlands don’t just hold extra water, the plants help control the flow of water and filter toxins. More than many ecosystems, wetlands are threatened by climate change. Yet these critical areas provide important buffers for storms, and will help cleanse the water of toxins introduced by shoreline floods.

An example is Eastshore State Park, with visitation of almost a million and a half people in 2007. This park demonstrates State Park’s potential to provide an ecological response to climate change while serving the recreational needs of large urban populations. The park preserves 8.5 miles of tidal wetlands and marshlands. This habitat serves as a “carbon dioxide sponge,” and acts as a buffer against sea level rise.

by Caryl Hart, Ph.D, and Jackson Vanfleet-Brown