GIVE IT BACK: At first I thought I was just feeling sorry for myself. But then I read that scientists just discovered a vast, empty intergalactic hole of nothingness about one-billion light-years wide. Translated into terms we can comprehend, that’s roughly six-billion-trillion miles. No stars. No gas. No dust. It’s so empty, they don’t even have dark matter there. Worse yet, cell phone reception really sucks.
Astronomers are wigging out. All this nothingness is forcing them to reexamine when the Big Bang took place and when the universe actually was born. For gravity to have carved out such an enormous void, they reckon, the universe must be considerably older than the 14 billion years most astronomers think it is.
I don’t know about you, but for me, that throws everything out of kilter. And I was already nursing a funk. Summer’s pretty much over and I didn’t do enough to celebrate it. Sure, I made a few last-minute, mad-dash efforts in the past two weeks by hitting my friendly neighborhood beach, Hendry’s. But with the Zaca Fire‘s giant mushroom cloud looming large over the mountains, I felt like I was boogey-boarding on the edge of the apocalypse, riding a few of the unseasonably large waves that stopped by for a visit.
If that wasn’t weird enough, my wife had to point out that Hendry’s Beach was shrinking. Disappearing before our eyes. Naturally, I sought to reassure her with some pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo about seasonal fluctuations and tidal variation. Everything was just fine, I insisted. Then an old friend accosted me with the same dire news. And he’s been jogging at Hendry’s Beach-named after one of the many Scottish lima bean farmers who’ve changed the face of Santa Barbara-for the past 18 years. The beach, he said, was being washed away. And just as I was starting to have some fun.
After investigating the case of the disappearing sand, I discovered they’ll be putting pictures of Hendry’s-also known as Arroyo Burro Beach-on milk cartons pretty soon. According to a smarty-pants post-doctoral graduate student at UC Santa Cruz named David Revell, Hendry’s has been in full retreat for some time. Revell specializes in beach erosion, and according to his calculations, the west end of Hendry’s has “retreated” by about 150 feet and the east end by about 45 feet. That’s between 1947 and 2003, but the bulk of that shrinkage has occurred since 1983. That’s when the Queen of England visited Santa Barbara and brought with her the first big El Ni±o storm. Since that royal visit, various other Ni±os have been kicking our coast’s ass on a sporadic basis.
Those storms have scoured vast quantities of sand off most of the beaches from Point Conception to Point Mugu at a time when we-the Homo sapiens-have been successfully short-circuiting most of the natural processes by which beach sand is replenished. By damming our rivers, plugging our slough, and blocking our creeks with vast debris basins, we’ve effectively reduced the flow of sediment our beaches need to maintain the vast white expanses that keep the tourists coming and the locals happy. According to BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment), an obscure government agency designed to combat the problem, our debris basins manage to trap enough sediment on average to fill 13,333 dump truck loads per year. That’s a lot of beach.
Likewise, the armored beach walls of Isla Vista provide a nasty one-two punch when it comes to beach sand. The beach walls prevent the natural bluff erosion that’s traditionally fed our beaches with the chunky “cobbles” that provide the essential building blocks needed for healthy beaches to develop. As the waves ricochet off the sea walls, they take more sand with them than they otherwise would have. Throw in new farming techniques that minimize erosion, federal storm runoff regulations designed to reduce particulate matter flowing downstream, and the driest year in Santa Barbara history and it’s easy to understand how our beaches have become so anorexic.
The most obvious victim of all this is Goleta Beach. As recently as 1979, Goleta Beach extended half-way out the length of the Goleta Pier, but again, thanks to the successive El Ni±os, it’s been reduced to just a few yards of its former self. Given that I rarely go to Goleta Beach, I never saw fit to pay much attention. But the fact is, about one million people per year go there, so I should care. And I should care because Goleta Beach is short-stopping the so-called River of Sand that would otherwise travel down the coast and replenish Hendry’s. Revell told me to imagine the Goleta bay as a giant underwater box starved for sand. Until that box is filled and happily overflowing, it will suck the sediment that would otherwise have headed down the coast.
Naturally, I hoped to blame global warming for all this. These days, what can’t be blamed on global warming is hardly worth complaining about. And it would have given me another opportunity to defend the Light Blue Line project-the 1,000-foot strip of blue paint proposed for Santa Barbara streets to show where our new seashore would be if Greenland melted-against the hysterical whining of the real estate lobby and the bully-boy know-nothings running the News-Press. But in deference to the City Council elections just a few months away, the Light Blue Line advocates opted to stage a strategic retreat, and caved. In fact, global warming might have an influence here. But it’s hard to say where the alternating cycles of rough and calm ocean-each lasting about 20 years-end and where global warming begins. To the extent our storms have grown more frequent and intense, global warming may have fueled that change.
In the meantime, I intend to keep the giant empty void of the universe out of my heart. My plan is to distract myself by going to the beach. I figure I better enjoy it while it’s still there. And for that matter, summer, too.