California coastal management with a changing climate

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Hanak, Ellen and Moreno, Georgina
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With over 2,000 miles (3,218 km) of ocean and estuarine coastline, California faces significant coastal management challenges as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise. Under high emission scenarios, recent models predict 1.4 m or more of sea level rise by 2100, accompanied by increasing storm surges. This article investigates the most important issues facing coastal managers, explores the policy tools available for adapting to the impacts of climate change, assesses institutional constraints to adaptation, and identifies priorities for future research and policy action. We find that adaptation tools exist for dealing with anticipated increases in coastal erosion and flooding, but they involve significant costs and tradeoffs. In particular, coastal armoring, such as seawalls, can protect developed coastal lands, but destroys beaches and habitat. Although California already has policies and institutions that aim to balance the competing objectives for coastal development, management agencies are at the early stages of understanding how to facilitate adaptation. Research priorities to inform coastal adaptation planning include: (i) inventorying coastal resources to provide a firmer basis for balancing decisions on property and habitat protection, (ii) identifying opportunities for coastal habitat migration, (iii) assessing the vulnerabilities of existing and planned coastal infrastructure, and (iv) experimenting with alternatives to armoring as a way of managing the changing coastline.


Hanak, E., and G. Moreno. 2012. California coastal management with a changing climate. Climatic Change 111:45–73. doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0295-2.