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The climate isn’t just changing ​ ​— ​ ​it’s changed. We saw it in the extreme weather events that tore through Montecito last winter, and we can observe it in the incremental differences in our air and water. The rapidity of this new reality means adaption is now the name of the game. Here, we examine how human systems and the natural world are ​ ​— ​ ​or aren’t ​ ​— ​ ​adapting to the “global weirding” that’s landing in our backyards.

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Santa Barbara Struggles to Adapt to Sea-Level Rises

The City of Santa Barbara struggles to adapt to rising sea levels and save beaches and property.

south coast

Officials say if nothing is done to reduce the world’s carbon emissions, this is how the South Coast would look by the year 2100. The models show how far inland the ocean would wash during annual storms if the overall sea level rose by 6.6 feet.Courtesy

Santa Barbara Struggles to Adapt to Sea-Level Rises

Can City Hall Find a Way to Save Beaches and Property Before It’s Too Late?

The seas off our beaches are rising. Is it too late to adapt to the change? That’s the task that’s fallen into the laps of Melissa Hetrick and Dan Gullett, two experienced long-range planners for the City of Santa Barbara. These two now find themselves spearheading City Hall’s efforts to come to terms with sea-level rise ​— ​an undertaking epic in scope, mind boggling in its implications. Imagine “planning” for the ice age, only in reverse ​— ​and it’s happening much, much faster.

By the end of the century ​— ​only 81 years away ​— ​seas off the coast of Santa Barbara are expected to rise anywhere from 5 to 6.6 feet. That’s if nothing is done to reduce the world’s carbon emissions. In 2018, those emissions went up globally. Here in Santa Barbara, they increased by 15 percent. This variation in predictions, from 5 to 6.6 feet, is based on the best available science measuring how quickly carbon in the atmosphere causes Arctic ice sheets to melt. That knowledge is constantly developing, as is our limited understanding of the ice sheets themselves. This explains why a study two years ago projected a five-foot sea-level rise for Santa Barbara, while one released in November 2018 ​— ​by the same consulting firm ​— ​concluded it could be as much as 6.6 feet.

None of this reflects the alarming new evidence just reported in the journal Science indicating the world’s oceans have heated up 40 percent faster than projected five years ago. In the years 2017, 2016, and 2015, ocean temperatures were the hottest ever recorded. The hotter the water, the more volume it occupies. More water plus hotter water equals higher seas.

This past August, the City Council’s subcommittee, led by planners Hetrick and Gullett, began considering various strategies for adapting to this encroaching reality. Three councilmembers and representatives from the city’s water, harbor, and parks and recreation commissions joined them to discuss what happens when the sea rises by 2.5 feet and then what happens when it increases to 6.6 feet.

A rising tide may lift all boats, but it also thrashes any infrastructure that happens to be in the way. In the City of Santa Barbara, that includes El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant, the desalination plant, the harbor, and the airport, and that’s just for starters. Closer to the soul of Santa Barbara, sea-level rise threatens to gobble up nearly two-thirds of the city’s 94 acres of beaches. Aside from losing 66 acres of beach, it would also adversely affect 1,200 parcels ​— ​public and private ​— ​making much of that land utterly unusable.



The tone of the discussion is far different than it was about 12 years ago when then-councilmember Helene Schneider teamed up with UCSB scientist Bruce Caron to launch the now infamous Light Blue Line project. Mixing public science and guerrilla street theater, Schneider secured city funding to paint a light blue line throughout downtown, showing where the ocean would be if it rose 10 feet. Real estate interests sued, arguing that it would destroy property values. Schneider withdrew her proposal. This time, the real estate industry has been quiet. As Caron noted, “A whole lot has changed in the past 10 years in terms of our understanding, but not much has been done.”

Sea-level rise is violent. It does not remotely function like a bathtub gradually filling up. Think what will happen when churning winter storms, pounding waves, and rising tides meet the raging waters rushing down Central Coast creeks. Think of what happens when those two immensely powerful forces crash together, causing vast invasive tidal surges. Low-lying neighborhoods will be flooded out. Engineers call this “a hydraulic leap.” People living there call it a disaster. For neighborhoods between Cabrillo Boulevard and Highway 101 ​— ​the Funk Zone for example ​— ​tidal inundation will become a regular fact of life. There’s no waterproofing for tidal inundation.

This past Wednesday, January 9, when the subcommittee on sea-level-rise adaption met, Hetrick talked about “a rainbow of options,” and private environmental consultant Nick Garrity talked about “tools in the toolbox” ​— ​beach nourishment, dikes, breakwaters, revetments, and managed retreat, to name a few. But any response will be expensive and complicated. There are no magic bullets.

For example, current projections indicate that three stretches of Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria will likely be inundated. Though outside the city’s jurisdiction, one of these stretches ​— ​nearly a mile long ​— ​lies adjacent to the Andrée Clark Bird refuge. According to preliminary CalTrans studies, the solution is to raise these affected areas up by six feet. The preliminary price tag is $1.2 billion ​— ​already deemed prohibitively expensive.

It so happens the city’s Creeks Division is already pursuing more modest engineering improvements to the bird refuge ​— ​for smell and habitat reasons ​— ​that will also help with sea-level rise. The plan is to enlarge the floodgate now preventing ocean waters from migrating into the lagoon. The new floodgate will not only keep water out when needed, but also allow water in ​— ​which will help soak up some of the increase surges. Plans to create beach dunes across Cabrillo Boulevard from the lagoon will also help anchor beach sands.

In the lingo of adaptation planners, options run the gamut of “gray to green,” the former typically referring to beach-hardening devices ​— ​jetties, revetments, breakwaters ​— ​the latter looking to restore natural processes that have been short-circuited along the way. Up the coast, for example, the University of California, Santa Barbara, is working with the Coastal Conservancy to restore 64 acres of wetlands that had been transformed into the Ocean Meadows Golf Course in the 1960s. By creating a more gradual slope than the golf course had, the native pickleweed will be given a viable path of retreat from rising sea levels. This will also help absorb much of the surge volume that would otherwise cause flooding on adjacent properties ​— ​which include not only the popular Goleta Beach but also the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, all of Old Town Goleta, two sewage treatment plants, a gas-company facility, and major electrical trunk lines.

In the City of Carpinteria, Parks Director Matt Roberts believes that the beaches must be replenished with coarse grain sands and rocks. About 50,000 cubic yards a year, he said, would make a real difference in being able to create vegetated dunes. “The spine needed for all of this to happen is cobble, the smaller rocks that are caught by debris basins,” he said. “If we don’t have that, we can’t establish a living shoreline.” Carpinteria has the largest debris basin on the South Coast, with a holding capacity of 350,000 cubic yards. That basin performed spectacularly well last year during the 1/9 Debris Flow, protecting Carpinteria from untold disaster. But then, all that debris was trucked to other cities for disposal. Roberts vehemently objected, but permitting requirements make it impossible to deposit the caught debris onto Carpinteria beaches, where he says it is desperately needed to fight sea rise. “I get it,” Roberts said, “but in the meantime, we’re still operating from some Boy Scout manual written in the 1960s,” he exclaimed. “We need to build a new culture that understands.”



Not everyone agrees. As recently as 2017, the county supervisors approved a plan to slowly decommission 5 of the 11 debris basins located on the South Coast. Fighting sea-level rise was listed as a key justification, but after the devastation of the 1/9 Debris Flow, those plans have been quietly but resoundingly scuttled.

There are no easy answers. When the city’s adaption subcommittee focused on bluff preservation, Hetrick and Garrity concluded, for example, that beach re-nourishment would be of marginal benefit. Any new sands deposited, Hetrick said, would soon be ferried down steam by coastal flows. Building sea walls, she said, would have a similar effect on existing beaches. The scouring energy generated as waves hit the walls would soon strip the beaches of their sand, and the bluffs would eventually vanish. It’s too soon to predict what recommendations the committee will make. But based on last week’s deliberations, it appears a hybrid approach is inevitable.

Any plan, the subcommittee was told, will take at least 10 years. The permitting requirements ​— ​approval by the Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers will be necessary ​— ​will be lengthy and difficult for anyone. New rules all but doom any private property owners hoping to get permits for sea walls. Government agencies seeking to protect ocean-related functions have a better shot. But it’s tricky.

City Hall’s adaptation subcommittee considered a plan that would require a specific response to a specific rise in sea level. But as Harbor Commissioner Jim Sloan pointed out, that’s much easier said than done. It’s one thing to know that the sea level is rising; it’s quite another to know at any given moment by how much. “There’s a lot of controversy about how fast it will rise. We need to agree what the measuring tool will be,” he said, “and who’s the keeper of the yardstick.”

As the city struggles to adapt to the intensifying rise in sea levels, the larger Santa Barbara community is commemorating the anniversaries of two tragic environmental disasters ​— ​Union Oil’s January 28 off-shore oil-rig blow-out that devastated the Santa Barbara coastline 50 years ago, awakening the nation to the dangers ahead, and the first anniversary of the Thomas Fire debris flow that killed 23 people in the once-tranquil haven of Montecito. The climate has changed. As Sigrid Wright of the Community Environmental Council points out, “It’s not about polar bears and Africa anymore; it’s right here, right now.”

— Nick Welsh

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What Can I Do to Help Counteract Climate Change?

Opting out is no longer an option.

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What Can I Do to Help Counteract Climate Change?

Opting Out Is No Longer an Option

Putting off until tomorrow what you could do today is no longer an option when it comes to the gathering carbon in the atmosphere, even according to reports from the current administration. They all say it’s causing changes we’ll live to regret. Is there anything just one person can do that makes a difference? We asked a number of Santa Barbarans who spend a good amount of their waking hours thinking about this, and their no-holds-barred answer is yes. Here’s how:

Drive clean; don’t drive; ride a bike. Everyone we asked agreed that personal transportation was the single-largest polluter (homes were second) individuals can affect. To avoid burning fossil fuels on those trips we all take every day, just think of the help that’s out there: Electric cars and motorcycles get California and Southern California Edison rebates; the federal government offers tax breaks. Metropolitan Transit District plans for all city buses to be greenhouse-gas free by 2030. And riding a bicycle and walking whenever possible help both your health and the planet’s.

Go solar, on your roof or a utility-offered program. An electric vehicle conserves little unless it’s powered by alternative energy sources; solar power goes into the grid during the day and is deducted from the array owner’s bill. Electric heat avoids using natural gas and the methane produced; the joy of air conditioning is guilt-free. The Green Rate program at SoCal Edison promises to buy 50 percent or 100 percent of a customer’s power from a renewable source. It costs a bit more ($9-$17 per $100 monthly), but new proposals before the Public Utilities Commission would bring those rates down.

Don’t eat red meat; eat more plants. Santa Barbara’s farmers’ markets bring locally grown produce and locally grazed meats to local kitchens, but at the grocery store, it’s a different story. Produce is trucked and flown across continents for the abundance we enjoy; it pays to read labels. The demand for meat means more fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, and water are used than in growing human food crops, plus the animals themselves are a source of pollution and methane. And our mothers were right; we’re healthier if we eat our vegetables.

Reduce. This simple word applies to having children, flying on an airplane, and everyday consumption. It’s the first word in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan for a reason: Reusing and recycling consume water or energy in and of themselves; avoiding the purchase in the first place matters. But much more personally difficult is the “two, one, or none” observation regarding children. It’s the sheer number of us consuming resources on the planet that has led to this crisis. This one’s a no-brainer as well as a no man’s land of individual choice.

Think. At bottom, all suggestions come down to thoughtful considerations of our lives and ruminating on how it could all be different, from voting to shopping to agitating at the local and national level ​— ​and then making it happen.

— Jean Yamamura

botanic gardens

Inside the Botanic Garden’s Fort Knox of Pressed Plants

Flora are the foundation of all habitats and will help stave off ecological collapse.

botanic gardens

Botanic Garden scientists Dr. Denise Knapp and Dr. Matt Guilliams look over the herbarium’s collection of California poppies. The multiple specimens, the oldest of which dates back to 1878, allow researchers to track physical attributes of the plant through time.Paul Wellmann

Inside the Botanic Garden’s Fort Knox of Pressed Plants

Flora Are the Foundation of All Habitats and Will Help Stave off Ecological Collapse

Under a new climate regime, there will inevitably be winners and losers, explained Dr. Denise Knapp, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s director of conservation and research. Some plants will adapt and withstand the changes while others will struggle to hang on. Already in Santa Barbara we can pick out members of both groups.

Toyon, a perennial shrub that’s part of the chaparral community, and a number of sunflower species are doing just fine, said Knapp. Bishop pine trees on Santa Cruz Island, however, are dying en masse from reduced fog and moisture levels. Manzanita is struggling too, said Knapp, as is the salt marsh bird’s beak, a federally endangered plant that’s especially sensitive to fluctuations in elevation and salinity. “It’s really the poster child for sea-level rise and climate change,” she said.

Since Knapp joined the Botanic Garden six years ago, she’s grown the Mission Canyon campus into a powerhouse of research and conservation, increasing its science staff from just a couple to a team of 11. Soon, a lichenologist and fire ecologist will join their ranks. Through field work and lab time in their impressive new headquarters perched above Las Canoas Road, they’re observing and cataloging the diversity of plant life throughout the Santa Barbara region.

“Some people might think that conserving California native plants and habitats is too niche in the context of climate change,” said Knapp. “They might think we have bigger fish to fry. But this is actually the crux of it. Plants are the foundations of all habitats, and they support all critters, from bugs to vertebrates.” The best way to stave off the detrimental effects of our out-of-whack weather patterns, she said, is to maintain an ecosystem’s healthy abundance of plant life. “Diversity will provide resilience to the change that’s coming,” she said. “It will help stave off change.”

Garden researchers regularly trek into the backcountry by pack mule and spend days observing, collecting, and pressing specimens. Those are then stored in the herbarium, a Fort Knox of botanical knowledge ensconced deep in the Botanic Garden’s headquarters behind half a dozen doors and many feet of fireproof concrete. Along with a highly protected Noah’s Ark–type seed bank, it holds 150,000 leafy specimens gently stacked in the kind of movable shelving you’d find in the special collection section of a library. The staff is also now in the process of scanning each pressing into an open source database with a specific focus on phenology.


Botanic Garden scientists Dr. Denise Knapp and Dr. Matt Guilliams look over the herbarium’s collection of California poppies. The multiple specimens, the oldest of which dates back to 1878, allow researchers to track physical attributes of the plant through time.Paul Wellmann

Phenology is the study of seasonal life cycles in plants and animals, and understanding how the changing climate is affecting these cycles is critical to meeting the challenges of the planet’s climate-changed future. The Botanic Garden is one of 22 institutions contributing to the database, which will hold over 900,000 scans by the time it’s complete.

Meanwhile, Botanic Garden researchers are also busy mapping plant regrowth and gathering data throughout the Zaca and Thomas Fire burn scars. Many of the areas, even before the fires, were known as “botanical black holes,” huge swaths of land that have received little scientific study. “The common thought is we know everything and [have] been everywhere,” said Knapp. “The fact is we know so little about the basic evolutionary history of a lot of plants.”

All of these efforts, Knapp explained, help inform future conservation and restoration work, including a new project to protect the aforementioned salt marsh bird’s beak. “In terms of habitat, we’ve already lost a lot,” she said. “It’s not enough anymore to just set land aside. You have to actually restore the habitat too.” Volunteers are vital to these labor-intensive projects, Knapp said, and while the Botanic Garden is blessed with a steady stream of them, it’s always in need of more.

For volunteer opportunities, and to learn more about the Botanic Garden’s work, including dates of upcoming presentations and lectures, visit sbbg.org.

— Tyler Hayden

augmented reality

Cracking the Climate Change Brain Barrier

A media psychologist explains how emotion, not data, is the key to action.

augmented reality

Augmented reality is a powerful visual tool that instantly communicates the dangers of climate change to the public, argues Dr. Garry Hare. This image shows a simulation of East Boston swallowed by sea-level rise.Courtesy

Cracking the Climate Change Brain Barrier

Media Psychologist Explains How Emotion, Not Data, Is the Key to Action

Climate change may occasionally rear its head in very obvious ways  ​— ​ hurricanes, droughts, and other extreme weather events  ​— ​ but mostly it arrives in increments so small they’re easy to miss. In fact, we humans are programmed to ignore such diffused, drawn-out processes, especially if we don’t think they affect us personally. That’s a dangerous dynamic, though, as willful ignorance and delayed action pushes the planet further into permanent disrepair.

Media and political psychologists like Dr. Garry Hare, a Fielding Graduate University faculty member, are studying how to adapt public communications to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds, even as their minds are pushing back. He’s currently writing an article, called “Data Doesn’t Cry ​ ​— ​ ​and Seldom Causes Others to Do So,” on why climate data seldom leads to climate action. He spoke to the Independent from his home in Goleta.

Why is this issue so hard to wrap our heads around? When we look at ourselves as a society, we’re pretty good at addressing short-term crises. For instance, I got evacuated during the Holiday Fire, and the fire department was on top of that in about 10 minutes. It was truly amazing. And in Montecito, first responders and the community responded in a way that was extraordinarily admirable. But those are short-term things. Long-term problems are different. The brain is hardwired for easier stuff that doesn’t require too much thinking. It’s more reactive, and as human beings we try to avoid as much of the hard stuff as we can, because it’s work.

If you look at the federal climate study that came out recently, it was hundreds and hundreds of pages of charts and tables and graphs and the best thinking of climate scientists, governmental organizations, and academic institutions. They all pointed in the same direction. They all said we have to wean ourselves off of carbon, post-haste, and we should have started 20 years ago. It’s such dense information and so overwhelming that it’s paralyzing.

How do you break through that paralysis? By triggering an emotional reaction. The idea is to simplify data to the point where you take a lot of the workload out of it. We can’t be subtle anymore.

But what’s more emotional than the end of the world? Well, it’s difficult because mostly what we’re looking at right now is small changes in climate. It’s a long-term problem that doesn’t lend itself to short-term solutions. Because I teach political psychology, I study what kinds of exposure to information and media is more likely to elicit a reaction, and visual memory is great short-term memory. Imagine one more platform off Santa Barbara, or somebody putting a [drilling] rig in Goleta. That kind of stuff.

How do you leverage a visual that doesn’t exist yet? I also work a lot in immersive media  ​— ​ augmented reality. For example, the Surfrider Foundation has done a great job over the last 20 years of uploading water test results to a database, but it just sits there. What if your smartphone was able to access that database and overlay data in real time? Before your child sticks their toe in the water, you could point your phone’s camera at a creek or beach and see if it’s polluted. Or what if you had an app that showed what it would look like on State Street or in your backyard if the ocean were to rise by 18 inches? That fundamentally changes the way that people see data. They’re not being asked to read a white paper on agricultural runoff hundreds of miles away. They’re seeing the impact in their own neighborhood, which makes it easier on the brain to understand.

Okay, once you trigger a reaction, then what? When we make it clear what the public can do today, they do a pretty darn good job, from recycling to installing LEDs to putting solar panels on their house. Maybe even buying a hybrid or an electric vehicle. We say, “Here are some options if you can afford them, and if you can’t afford them, perhaps we subsidize them.” The public gets behind that. We don’t see a whole bunch of people hanging signs saying “I refuse to recycle” or anything like that.

Why, then, doesn’t individual action necessarily translate to public policy? I don’t think most of our elected officials, regardless of the political spectrum they’re on, are truly stupid. A few are, but many others are paid to be willfully ignorant. There’s a whole lot of money in the fossil-fuel industry.

Are there any long-term problems we’ve actually been good at solving? I’m old enough to remember when you could stand in Los Angeles and not see the mountains because the air quality was so bad. We’ve been extraordinarily successful, when you think about it, in terms of emissions control and cleaning air in some of our urban centers over the last 25 years. Now if you go into the Central Valley, that’s not true. The air quality is terrible, and the health rates are awful. But that’s not a scientific question at all. It’s a political issue ​ ​— ​ ​we don’t care as much about farmworkers as we do folks who live in Santa Monica. The other equally interesting long-term problem right now is water.

Have you seen any smart media strategies reminding people to conserve water? I used to live in Marin County, and one of its newspapers, the Marin Independent Journal, put a graph on the front page that linked water rates to the reservoir capacity. So if the reservoir capacity dropped down to say 20 percent, then the rates would start to go up. And so on. That visual information was right in front of everybody every day. And eventually, it started to change behavior.

We’ve talked about visual cues, but what about language? What’s the best way for print media to cover this heady topic? It was unfortunate that for the first 10 years of us looking at this as an issue, people were calling it “global warming.” It all came home to roost when that senator held a snowball up in the senate chambers to prove that the earth wasn’t getting warmer. So the other side got smart, and NOAA and others started calling it what it is, which is really uncontrollable swings in the climate.

Now, one of the things that I would do if I were in the local media is to really invite readers’ responses as to what they would propose as solutions. You pick the top three or five and discuss them. Basically, be kind of a public involvement policy arm. You need folks to say, “Listen, here are our top priorities in Santa Barbara,” whether it’s banning Styrofoam or plastic bags, or building more bike lanes. Because in the big scheme of things, those little changes are good to make. It’s good exercise. Because if we succeed in two or three of them, we’re more likely to roll up our sleeves and tackle the bigger ones. We start to believe in ourselves more when we can do that.

— Tyler Hayden

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Tough Urchins and Future Fisheries

Can UCSB scientists help 'climate-proof' important seafoods?

urchin UCSB

Working on her PhD at UCSB, Logan Kozal (right) induces an urchin to spawn with an injection of potassium chloride. Progeny are then studied in part to determine if fisheries can be “climate-proofed.”Paul Wellmann

Tough Urchins and Future Fisheries

Can UCSB Scientists Help ‘Climate-Proof’ Important Seafoods?

When it comes to figuring out how sea life can adapt to a rapidly changing climate, scientists may have a lot to learn from urchins. Turns out, sea urchins are pretty tough. These spiky echinoderms may not be as cute as a floatation of otters or as cool as flowing forests of kelp, but they may hold critical clues as to how commercial fisheries and aquaculture operations might contend with a warming world.

“Tough urchins tend to make tough babies,” according to Gretchen Hofmann, a UCSB molecular ecologist who focuses on the response of marine organisms to a changing environment. In this context, she explained, “tough” means able to tolerate warmer water. “If these animals can change quickly to persist in warming environments, it could help us understand how entire communities might be able to change. The thinking is that some organisms will be good at dealing with the heat while others won’t.”

At the Hofmann Lab last week, postdoctoral researcher Marie Strader explained that she and her fellow scientists were studying urchins ​— ​some in tanks simulating a normal ocean, and others in more acidic conditions associated with water that’s absorbed a lot of carbon dioxide, that greenhouse gas linked to global warming. After inducing the urchins to spawn (with a diluted solution of potassium chloride), Strader said, gathered gametes (eggs) are gently blended with sperm, and the progeny are studied.

“We’re mimicking climate change in the lab,” said Hofmann. “We’re asking: If the adults experience an environment that’s a little more challenging, will those females imbue things into the eggs that make their babies tougher? We test the progeny ​— ​are you bigger? Do you have more lipids? Did your mom pack you a better sandwich? There’s a lot of theory and a lot of data that says animals kind of naturally do this, but we’ve never looked this carefully and in a climate-change context.”

The applications are real, Hofmann added. “Can we save a fishery by raising heat-tolerant red urchins? The idea of ‘climate-proofing’ aquaculture is incredibly important globally.” The commercially harvested urchins that injected an estimated $30 million into Santa Barbara’s economy last year range from Baja to Alaska. Urchin roe, or uni ​— ​the Japanese word for “delicacy” — is an acquired taste; most of the harvest is exported. But they’re easier to study in the lab than a food stable from the depths, such as black cod, for example. “You have to start somewhere,” Hofmann said.

The Hofmann Lab is also taking a hard look at the Santa Barbara Channel’s iconic kelp forests, those fast-growing undersea amber realms where all kinds of plants and animals gather, feed, and breed. “Kelp forests are more than just great places to be a fish,” Hofmann said. “They actually change the nature of the water. They put in more oxygen, and because they do photosynthesis, they suck CO2 out of the water, making it less acidic and providing this great climate change protection service.”

But kelp forests, which also range from northern Baja to Alaska, don’t thrive in warmer water. “Maybe there is a threshold,” Hofmann wonders about that temperature at which thinning kelp forests can no longer render services critical to all the forms of life they support. But right now, she added, “We’re not there yet.”

— Keith Hamm

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Statistics: How Hot, How Wet, and for How Long

Combined with the higher temperatures forecast, the county can expect both drought and flooding.

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Paul Wellman

Statistics: How Hot, How Wet, and for How Long

Combined Higher Temperatures, Santa Barbara Can Expect Both Drought and Flooding

How much will the county be affected as the globe grows warmer? Different scenarios were explored in California's most recent climate assessment — from wildfire to the oceans — including a look at temperature and rainfall. Researchers used data for the latter two from 1961 through 1990 to project likely outcomes from the carbon gathering in the atmosphere.

For Santa Barbara, the maximum temperature averaged 68.8 degrees Fahrenheit countywide for 1961-1990; the average minimum was 43°F. By 2100, both the maximum and minimum temps rise by about 7 degrees if no preventive measures are taken to contain greenhouse-gas production (Scenario 2). If strenuous prevention occurs and GHGs plateau in 2040, hot days are still hotter, and so are cold days, but this time by about 4 degrees (Scenario 1).

Maximum Temperature (avg. 68.8°F, 1961-1990)

1991-2005; 69.4

2006-2018; 70.4


How many days will it be hotter than before? The county experienced roughly 4.3 days of an average 87.5°F of heat in past decades. That goes up to 33 heat days by 2100 if atmospheric carbon rises unchecked, and 17 if it begins to back down in 2040.

The results were developed by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Climate Research Division, a group that's been around for decades. It's currently led by Dan Cayan, a widely recognized expert in the field; he and Climate Research Division scientists Julie Kalansky and David Pierce ran the numbers. They used 10 climate models — among them Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation); the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado; and others from Great Britain, Japan, Italy, and France — to arrive at a look at climate 80 years from now.

"The results are called 'projections' not 'predictions' because they depend on how much greenhouse gas gets released to the atmosphere in the future," explained Dr. Pierce. "That depends on things like politics, technology advances, and economics, which climate scientists do not pretend to predict." The group supplied two scenarios for California's Fourth Climate Change Assessment (climateassessment.ca.gov), one in which society reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the future and one in which nothing is done. "You can see the effect that such decisions have on the Earth's future warming," Pierce said.

The assessment is full of statistics, missing only perhaps the number of hotter nights the future holds, an important factor in heat-related deaths. Pierce ran the question through their computer for the Independent, arriving at a simple average. In the past, the county had just over four days of above-minimum temperatures of 57°F or more. With no mitigation, that goes up to 60 hot nights by 2100, and 25 if GHGs are reined in.

Average Number of Nights Above Minimum Temperature (avg. 4.3 nights above 57°F, 1961-1990)


Rainfall, which averaged 17.6 inches in the recent past, was projected to be 21.5 inches by 2100 with unrestrained emissions; it's 18.9 inches if contained. Though both projections increase Santa Barbara County's rainfall, the fine print actually contains fewer wet days and more dry days, which means the rain will fall faster and harder. Combined with the higher temperatures forecast, the county can expect both drought and flooding in the near and distant future.

— Jean Yamamura


Story | Indy Staff

Producer | Erika Carlos

Photography | Paul Wellman

Video | Harvest Keeney, Brandon Yadegari, & Miguel Zepeda-Rosales