Jackie Caldwell

If trends of rising sea levels continue, coastlines could look radically different, even within our lifetimes.

Due to melting land ice and the expansion of warming sea water, sea levels are rising. While fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are normal due to changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, human activities in the recent centuries have caused the planet’s temperature to increase at an abnormal rate, which has in turn caused Earth’s sea level to rise at an abnormal rate as well.

In the 20th century, the rate of sea level rise was greater than it had been in 2,800 years. According to the latest measurements by NOAA, it is expected to increase even more in the 21st century.

Water is like anything else: it expands when it heats up. Think of yourself laying on the beach, all stretched out, as opposed to bundled up in the cold. The same thing happens to the ocean, but on a much larger scale.

Overall, these current estimates predict that over the next century, Earth’s sea level will rise by 79 inches. In Santa Barbara specifically, the sea level is expected to rise 47 inches.

One side effect of this will be an increase in cliff retreat. A higher sea level will lead to higher tides, and higher tides will increase wave impact at the base of cliffs, causing more cliff erosion.

From time to time, the houses on Del Playa Drive have to be scaled back to accommodate retreating cliffs. Ideally, the houses on Del Playa that are at risk will all be scaled back before any major erosion actually occurs, but heavy storms can exacerbate sea level rise, causing balconies to unexpectedly collapse.

Just this year, such an instance occurred at 6653 Del Playa when part of a cliff collapsed, taking off about 100 square feet of a balcony. While cliff erosion is normal, increasing sea levels and the possible increase in the frequency and severity of climatic events may speed up the erosion of the cliffs surrounding Isla Vista.

If the trends continue, as shown in the featured map, the Santa Barbara Airport is expected to be under the sea.

Along with cliff erosion, rising sea levels due to global warming will have an effect on Santa Barbara and Goleta beaches. Over the next 100 years, areas that only experience temporary flooding during storms or high tides will become permanently inundated. Some of the beaches surrounding Isla Vista may disappear. The UCen may actually be on the beach, not just by the lagoon.

The extent to which rising sea levels will affect Isla Vista is hard to gauge. It takes a long time for the ocean to warm up and for sea levels to rise in response, and it may take a few decades to see all the effects of global warming on Isla Vista. In the coming years, there should be an increase in cliff retreat and stormy weather along with the gradual disappearance of surrounding beaches. However, the extent of those changes and their consequences can range depending on people’s actions to combat it.