In 2016, The Bay Foundation, with support from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, conducted a broad, risk-based, Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) of the objectives in the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program (SMBNEP’s) Bay Restoration Plan (BRP). The CCVA identifies risks associated with individual objectives and goals in the BRP. Additionally, the CCVA identifies strengths and weaknesses of existing objectives to manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The SMBNEP Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment will serve as an important tool to inform future updates to the Bay Restoration Plan. The full CCVA report is posted here.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014).
Climate Change Stressors
The CCVA focused on evaluating how the following six climate change stressors would impact Santa Monica Bay and associated BRP objectives and goals:
- Warmer temperatures
- Warmer water
- Increasing drought
- Increasing storminess
- Sea level rise (SLR)
- Ocean acidification (OA)
Climate change models specific to the Santa Monica Bay Watershed region were evaluated to inform staff and expert reviewers during the CCVA process.
Climate change associated risks were identified by staff and expert scientists as part of the vulnerability assessment process. Over 450 risks were identified across 59 objectives in the Bay Restoration Plan. For example, warmer waters causing an increase in potential for eutrophication and subsequent lowering of dissolved oxygen in coastal waters could affect many of the Bay’s estuaries, streams, creeks, and other waterways. Similarly, warmer waters offshore could have impacts throughout nearshore habitats such as kelp beds, rocky intertidal areas, and deeper waters.
For every 10 joules of energy that our greenhouse gas pollution traps here on Earth, about 9 of them end up in an ocean. There, the effects of global warming bite into fisheries, ecosystems, and ice. But those effects are largely imperceptible to humans – as invisible to a landlubber as an albatross chomping on a baited hook at the end of a long line. (John Upton, Climate Central 2014)
The final Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment report identifies strengths and weaknesses of existing objectives to manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Each of the current Bay Restoration Plan objectives were evaluated for adaptive capacity, sensitivity, and exposure to climate change. In general, outreach, education, and policy objectives were not very vulnerable and had a high associated adaptive capacity. Objectives or goals that were linked to a vulnerable habitat were often susceptible to multiple climate change stressors that increased the potential vulnerability of that habitat, e.g. objectives related to intertidal habitats and coastal wetlands. Additionally, objectives or goals that were related to a habitat with a low adaptive capacity to a particular stressor were often more vulnerable, e.g. kelp forests and their associated biological communities will have trouble adapting to OA and warmer waters, and the effects of both stressors may interact over time. OA was also identified in many cases as being a data gap, and more research is needed into this stressor to increase the confidence of its vulnerability evaluations.
Risk-based Action Planning
The content and results of this project, the CCVA, will directly inform the revision of SMBNEP’s BRP to be completed by 2019, while contributing to the development of local climate change adaptation strategies. The report itself represents the first phase of the CCVA. The subsequent step is to apply the findings from this project to conduct risk-based action planning and develop specific BRP revision recommendations. The BRP revision will involve a comprehensive assessment of the progress to-date and future necessity and feasibility of all goals, objectives, and milestones in the current BRP.