kelp forest views from below

Climate Change

Improving our understanding of climate change and nature-based strategies to make our bay and watershed more resilient.

How Will Climate Change Affect Santa Monica Bay and Its Watershed?

Climate change is caused globally by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides and other gases have increased in our atmosphere through various human activities. Although these gases trap heat and cause global warming, the planet’s response to this trapped heat varies, effecting climate change in different ways.

Along the coast of Los Angeles, climate change will continue to cause warmer ocean water and more frequent intense storms and wave events, resulting in increased rates of erosion and coastal flooding, suspension of sediment and burial of nearshore reefs. Changes in precipitation and warmer weather will lead to pervasive drought-like conditions punctuated by heavy storms, thereby reducing the flows in our coastal streams and rivers and raising the water temperature. The absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean causes a chemical change in the ocean water making it more acidic. The increase in temperature globally leads to melting glaciers and ice caps. When those melt waters flow into the ocean the water level increases. This sea level rise is also caused by the expansion of the water as it absorbs heat.

These changes will place stress upon animals and plants—and impact the quality of life for Los Angeles’ residents and visitors. Fortunately, The Bay Foundation (TBF) has many projects that lessen the impacts of climate change and improve the health of local habitats, including beach and dune, kelp, seagrass, wetland, and stream restoration projects. In essence, by planting plants, trees, and grasses, and by promoting kelp growth, we improve conditions for wildlife while allowing photosynthesis to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and local ocean. Learn more about these projects on our other topics pages: Protecting Beaches, Restoring Oceans, Engaging Communities and Revitalizing Wetlands.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

 In 2016, TBF, with support from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC), conducted a broad, risk-based Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) of the objectives in the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program’s (SMBNEP) strategic plan, which identified risks associated with each individual objective and goal. Additionally, it identified the strengths and weaknesses of existing objectives to manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The SMBNEP’s CCVA was used as an important tool to inform a substantial revision to their Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan and has guided the development of several resilience projects.

Protecting and Restoring our Coast from Climate Change While Reducing the Cause

TBF is implementing innovative living shorelines, or nature-based adaptation solutions, to reduce the impacts of sea level rise and erosion on coastal infrastructure, beaches, and other habitats. Because plants and algae are photosynthetic organisms that naturally pull carbon dioxide into their tissues to generate food while growing and repairing their bodies, TBF is restoring them on the beaches and in Santa Monica Bay to protect our coast. With increased rates of sea level rise, our beaches need help to keep pace with the rising waters. Many of the plants adapted to grow on beaches also trap sand blown by the wind or pushed onshore by ocean water. Through planting, TBF is therefore able to build dunes and beaches that grow taller over time, reducing erosion and helping to protect our coastlines from flooding. The Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project restored several acres of sandy coastal habitats on the beaches of Santa Monica, providing habitat for native plants and wildlife, improving natural aesthetics, and serving as a valuable pilot case study for shoreline protection. The success of this effort has encouraged the development of other TBF beach dune projects along the Los Angeles County coastline.

Frequent storms and larger waves pounding the Southern California coastline are major causes for concern if we hope to preserve our beaches and rocky shorelines for future generations to enjoy. To address this, TBF has restored over 56 acres of kelp forest off the Palos Verdes Peninsula through our Kelp Forest Restoration Project to pull in carbon dioxide and affect waves and currents. To better understand how, through the Kelp Forest Hydrodynamics Project, TBF investigated exactly how kelp forest restoration techniques protect our shoreline. The study showed that mature kelp forests dampen the effects of small waves and slow down water movement inside the kelp forest, both of which result in keeping sand and other sediment contained nearshore and reducing erosion.

Seagrasses can provide many of the same benefits that dune plants and kelp forests produce. Growing in the sand or on the rocks in the ocean, these plants pull carbon dioxide out of the water and incorporate it into their tissue. Some of the carbon dioxide makes it into the roots and sediment, where it stays for more than a hundred years. These living systems help protect us from climate change, while simultaneously reducing the global cause of climate change. Large expanses of seagrass, including Santa Monica Bay’s offshore eelgrass, can provide other benefits as well, like improving water quality, retaining sediment, and supporting fish populations.

Activating Community Composting

Nearly half of the solid waste produced globally is organic or biodegradable. Much of this waste ends up in landfills where it decomposes without the presence of oxygen and produces methane—a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Separating organic waste from landfills and recycling the nutrients through composting converts organic material into soil carbon and provides carbon sequestration, while retaining water and nutrients. It’s a powerful climate adaptation strategy that is easy to implement. By composting locally, we also reduce the transportation associated with hauling waste to faraway processing facilities, which in turn lowers smog-forming air pollutants and carbon dioxide emissions. Our Table to Farm program initiated three community compost bin facilities in South Los Angeles, which serve Environmental Charter Schools, the community, and local restaurants that are interested in recycling their organic food scraps. To date, over 10,000 pounds of food waste has been diverted.

Monitoring Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification (OA) is a global problem triggered by the world’s oceans absorbing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. The extra carbon dioxide actually causes the ocean water to become more acidic, which can interfere with shell-building organisms like snails. The impacts of OA are already being felt across West Coast systems and are projected to grow rapidly in intensity and extent. An increasing number of studies are documenting the progression of OA and its effects on local organisms, such as sea urchins, crabs, snails, mussels, coralline algae, and calcareous planktons. To contribute to OA monitoring in Santa Monica Bay, TBF acquired a high precision instrument package for pH, dissolved oxygen, and pCO2 with funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Initially deployed in 2016 by Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, this instrumentation will provide valuable information, day and night over the course of many years, on OA and hypoxia levels in Santa Monica Bay. With these measurements, scientists will be able to determine how severe the effects of OA are on the organisms in Santa Monica Bay.


Related Links:

Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program (SMBNEP) Plans & Reports 

Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC)