Flawed Alarmism: Coastal Cliff Erosion in California and the Inaccuracies of Climate Change Projections

Anthony recently published an article over at ClimateREALISM rebutting the silly claims in an article by Hannah Kanik, published by the Bay Area News Group (BANG), which caused a stir with its alarming claim that up to 70% of California’s coastline could be wiped out by 2100 due to climate change.

Anthony pointed out how the article is misleading, primarily relying on projections of computer models for sea level rise.

Kanik writes:

The U.S. States Geological Survey used two decades worth of satellite imagery of Ocean Beach in San Francisco — combined with models of sea levels rising from 1.6 to 10 feet due to global temperature increases — to estimate how the entire state’s coastline will shift in the next century.

That range is expected to vary based on the rate and reduction of carbon emissions over time.

While it may seem like that reality is in the distant future, the West Coast could see its sea levels rise up to eight inches in the next 25 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This claim is based on computer climate models predicting sea level rise (SLR), rather than looking at the trend of actual sea level observations. As Climate Realism has discussed repeatedly, climate models are seriously flawed. The most extreme projections of computer models simulations, RCP 8.5, those most likely used generate the highest SLR warned of, 10 feet by 2100, are not just exceedingly unlikely, they are likely impossible.

The article cites several locations along the California coast that are at greatest risk, including Humboldt Bay, Point Arena, Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Newport Beach, and San Clemente.

Fortunately, real-world data exists in the form of tide-gauges on the U.S. West Coast. The sea level rise data is publicly available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website known as Tides and Currents. Below in Figure 1, is a screen capture of that website showing tide gauges on the U.S. West Coast:

Figure 1: NOAA website map illustrates relative sea level trends at west coast stations, with arrows representing the direction and color the magnitude of SLR change.

What Anthony did not point out however is how Kanik’s article ignores the longstanding problem of coastal cliff erosion, which has been well-documented and studied for many decades if not hundreds of years. This blog post aims to shed light on these additional flaws in the Kanik’s claims and provide a more nuanced perspective on the issue.

Coastal Cliff Erosion and Geographical Factors: Coastal cliff erosion is a longstanding problem in California and is primarily driven by natural factors such as tides, weather, and land compaction and subsidence.

Understanding Coastal Cliff Erosion: Coastal cliff erosion refers to the gradual wearing away of cliffs and bluffs along the coastline due to various natural processes and human caused processes. While erosion can occur in different ways, coastal cliffs are particularly vulnerable due to the combined effects of weathering, wave action, and tidal forces.

Weathering: Over time, the relentless forces of wind, rain, and temperature changes break down the rock materials comprising coastal cliffs. This process is primarily driven by physical and chemical weathering, causing the cliffs to gradually weaken and crumble.

Wave Action: The powerful and constant pounding of waves against the base of the cliffs contributes significantly to their erosion. The sheer force of the waves, coupled with the abrasive action of sediment and debris carried by the water, gradually undermines and erodes the cliff face.

Tidal Forces: Tides play a crucial role in coastal cliff erosion. The rise and fall of the tides expose the base of the cliffs to constant cycles of wetting and drying. This cyclical action weakens the stability of the cliffs and accelerates their erosion.

Storm Events and Coastal Damage: The article itself acknowledges that the damaged sections of coastlines mentioned were attributed to individual storm events rather than long-term climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that there is no evidence of increasing trends in severe weather events due to climate change. This further supports the argument that coastal damages in California are primarily caused by natural erosion, periodic extreme weather events, and unstable ground, rather than climate change.

Human factors, such as coastal development, aquifer depletion, shore protection structures and dams, which can add weight to clifftops, change water drainage routes, and interfere with natural sediment transport

Attributing any erosion solely to climate change oversimplifies the complex dynamics involved.

It is essential to critically evaluate the claims made in alarmist articles. The recent article from the Bay Area News Group (BANG) exaggerates the potential impact of climate change on California’s coastline, disregarding the long-established problem of coastal cliff erosion. By considering real-world data, including tide gauge observations and historical records, skeptics of climate change alarmism provide a more comprehensive perspective on the issue. It is crucial to differentiate between natural erosion processes and the influence of climate change to develop effective strategies for coastal management and protection.

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Tom Halla
June 2, 2023 6:24 pm

The Mockery News was never all that responsible. Most of the central California coast looks that way due to plate tectonics, with very little coastal plain north of the Los Angeles basin. There is a little bit around Monterrey Bay, but the San Francisco bay area is well inland.
I used to live in Northern California, and warning tourists on the smaller beaches that it was radically unsafe to be within about ten feet of the cliff base was a common occurrence. We had to point out that the pile of rocks at the base were just from when the last storm cleared them all out. Sedimentary rock, and not very strong or stable.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 2, 2023 6:46 pm

Too many don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Scissor
June 2, 2023 7:16 pm

We did have one group that did not believe us, and were almost hit by a rockfall. One could almost walk on the schadenfreude.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 2, 2023 7:03 pm

“..very little coastal plain north of LA….

And where the coastal plain exists, it is usually due to shoreline washing away between previous northern glaciations.

abolition man
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 2, 2023 7:44 pm

Most of the Central and Northern California coastlines are comprised of Franciscan Complex formations. These are low-grade metamorphic rocks; sedimentary rocks altered by the actions of the San Andreas Fault Zone and the interactions of the Pacific Plate with the North American.
I used to carefully scramble up and down all over those cliffs in my pursuit of the skeletal remains of Haliotis rufescens and H. cracherodii. I’d love to go back and spend more time doing that again, but I am reluctant to travel in a totalitarian Communist state that is implacably averse to free-thinking humans!

abolition man
June 2, 2023 8:22 pm

Another important factor in that should be taken into consideration is the geology of the area.
Both Northern and Central California coastlines have large sections of the Franciscan Complex in their make up. This complex is comprised of numerous soft sedimentary rocks that have been pummeled and twisted by movement and compression along the San Andreas Fault, making them crumbly and erosion prone. The Salinian Block of Mesozoic granite, that has been thrust up like a spear from it’s origin 350 km to the southeast, doesn’t help stabilize any of the surrounding terranes besides it’s own!

June 3, 2023 4:53 am

Cliff will always lose from wave. The only way to protect a cliff is by having a beach wide enough it can absorb the force of the wave before reaching the cliff. Beach is the ideal cost difference. You only need rivers to deliver the sediments. Of course building dams in your rivers will destroy the beach/delta. 

Reply to  Robertvd
June 3, 2023 12:54 pm

‘cost difference’ most be ‘coast defense’. (Too early in the morning)

June 3, 2023 5:55 am

It’s geology. All land surfaces are forever subject to erosion, even lands far inland. Between wave action, rain, chemical weathering, freeze-thaw, whatever. Anyone who has ever taken a public school course in earth science or who has ever visited any of our national or state parks with exposed rock formations, or just driven, walked, or flown over any exposed rock would be aware of the power of erosion.

Erosion continues across geologic eras of hundreds of millions to even billions of years,. But some well known erosional features such as Niagara Falls were created only since the last glaciation receded merely thousands of years ago. The biggest erosional feature on the planet, the Grand Canyon, is only 5-6 million years old, only 1 766th the age of our planet.

And those highly erodible sedimentary rock cliffs in California – just where does this group of expert geologist-journalists think the sediments in those rocks came from?

Douglas Proctor
June 3, 2023 4:17 pm

I’m a geologist. The Californian coast is a multi million year regressive shoreline created by a transgression ocean. That’s why there are cliff’s. If it weren’t, it would be a transgressive shoreline created by a regressive ocean like the coast of Texas.

It isn’t becoming something it already wasn’t.

Clyde Spencer
June 3, 2023 8:30 pm

U.S. States Geological Survey

There is no such organization. It is properly known as the United States Geological Survey, or USGS.

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