Skip to main content

Effects of Sea-Level Rise and Extreme Storms on California Coastal Habitats: Part 2

A Coastal Site Network for Advancing Understanding and Prediction of Climate Change Effects on Nearshore Ecosystems: Integrating Interdisciplinary Process Studies/Understanding and Predicting the Impacts of Sea Level Rise, Extreme Storms, and Other Changes on California Coastal Habitats


Start Date
End Date
Release Date


In California, the near-shore area where the ocean meets the land is a highly productive yet sensitive region that supports a wealth of wildlife, including several native bird species. These saltmarshes, mudflats, and shallow bays are not only critical for wildlife, but they also provide economic and recreational benefits to local communities. Today, sea-level rise, more frequent and stronger storms, saltwater intrusion, and warming water temperatures are among the threats that are altering these important habitats. Much of the existing research on anticipating the effects of changing conditions on coastal ecosystems relies on global or regional scale data, meaning that the detailed information necessary for local-scale decision [...]

Child Items (4)


Principal Investigator :
Glen MacDonald, Karen M Thorne
Funding Agency :
Southwest CSC
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

Attached Files

Click on title to download individual files attached to this item.

“Coastal zone in California (Public domain)”
thumbnail 1.25 MB image/jpeg


In California, the nearshore region where the ocean meets the land is a highly productive area that supports a wealth of natural resources and local communities. The salt marshes, mudflats, and shallow bays of this boundary region are connected habitats critical to sustaining wildlife and other resources. Climate change effects such as sea-level rise and increased storms are altering these habitats, but we don’t know how they are being affected or will change in the future. Our study will examine the links among these habitats and expected future changes at several sites along the California coast. We will look at the current weather patterns, bottom elevations, tidal range, and sediment of these connected habitats to see how they affect plants and animals, as well as to project how climate change may alter that balance. The goal of our project is to provide scientific information to support future planning and conservation of nearshore natural resources as our climate changes.

Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueOver the past two years, the U. S. Geological Survey, University of California at Los Angeles, and Oregon State University have developed a multidisciplinary team with support from the Southwest CSC to develop a program entitled “Coastal Ecosystem Response to Climate Change (CERCC).” The focus of CERCC is to engage natural resource managers at coastal sites and provide them with the scientific foundation for developing “bottom-up” climate change understanding and adaptation at local and regional scales. Our initial work developed baseline datasets (1-cm-accuracy digital elevation models, tidal range loggers, coordinated plant surveys, and sediment studies) for a network of 18 sites along a latitudinal gradient along the Pacific coast in the continental U. S. The project was developed in consultation with the California and North Pacific LCCs, and recently, both LCCs included us in their initiatives and provided funding to undertake climate “roadshows” to conduct local coastal workshops and increase outreach efforts with local partners. In this Statement of Intent, we propose to continue baseline studies across a coastal site network and integrate process-based, experimental studies at selected sites. Changing ocean and atmospheric conditions leading to sea-level rise and increased extreme storm events are reshaping nearshore coastal ecosystems and their local food webs. The sustainability of mud flats and tidal marshes relies on allochthonous suspended sediment availability from the nearshore and runoff from snowmelt and precipitation as well as autochthonous organic matter production from plants. Efforts to anticipate coastal ecosystem change have largely relied on global or regional scale data which may not be representative of local sites. In taking a local site network approach (, we integrate data from multiple disciplines into empirical models describing current and future conditions and projected response of nearshore habitats. In addition, our network allows us to capture habitat responses to storm events such as atmospheric rivers that affect the California coast. We propose to leverage ongoing efforts including downscaled projections and storm modeling (Hall, Barnard, Holmquist, Brown), habitat characterization and risks (Thorne, Buffington, Dugger, De La Cruz), sediment studies (Ganju, Ambrose, Brown, Holmquist), and accretion processes (Guntenspergen, Thorne). Our objectives include extensive studies across all California network sites and intensive studies at two selected sites. Extensive studies include: 1) work with CERCC network site managers to continue quarterly tidal meter (water level, salinity, temp) and Surface Elevation Tables (SETs) readings to capture storm events such as atmospheric rivers; 2) augment the Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS) at fine resolution (10s of meters) developing a coastal change module including flooding and erosion; and 3) integrate findings for an agent-based, decision simulation model (Envision) developed with LCC support. At intensive studies (Seal Beach, s. CA, Mediterranean climate; Humboldt Bay, n. CA, Oceanic climate), we will examine: 4) site-specific community response to inundation by growing plants at different elevations in marsh organs, belowground production with in-growth bags, decomposition rates, and soil salinity; 5) sediment flux measurements augmented by an array of water samplers to determine spatial patterns of suspended sediment concentrations over the marsh on 4 high tides to apply to a spatially-explicit accretion model; and 6) sedimentational, palynological, plant macrofossil, and malacological records from sediment cores (14C, 210Pb, or Cs chronologies) related to past hydrological disturbances and storms (compared with Obj. 4), long-term resilience of marsh vegetation, a surface sampling grid to reconstruct 3-D changes in marsh sedimentation including storms and channel evulsions to assess marsh topographic stability (linked to Obj. 5) where records from retrospective core studies will be correlated with intermediate climate variability (ENSO, PDO, Little Ice-Age, Medieval Climate Anomaly), storms, and tectonic changes.
typeFY 14 Grant ($117,925)

Budget Extension


Coastal zone in California (Public domain)
Coastal zone in California (Public domain)


Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS


  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • Southwest CASC
  • USGS Western Ecological Research Center

Associated Items



Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC a211d2c5-e2c3-4b6c-a76a-df284912536c
StampID NCCWSC SW13-TJ18020

Item Actions

View Item as ...

Save Item as ...

View Item...