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Rising sea levels, increasingly frequent and severe flooding, and coastal erosion are just a few of the climate-fueled threats to coastal infrastructure and habitat. To mitigate damage from current threats and prepare for future ones, coastal communities must decide which adaptation strategies best address their needs. 

A new collaborative project between USGS, Greater Farallones Association, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science investigates how coastal resource managers in north-central California can better prioritize and weigh tradeoffs among different coastal management strategies, with an emphasis on nature-based adaptation strategies. The project, titled “Advancing Natural Solutions to Sea Level Rise Impacts for Improved Management on the North-central California Coast”, will receive almost $1 million in funding from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

California’s 1,200 miles of beaches and coastal wetlands are increasingly threatened by sea level rise and changing storm patterns. For decades, these threats were met with hard infrastructure solutions: human-made structures such as seawalls, breakwaters, and armoring to dissipate wave energy and reduce coastal erosion and flooding during storms. While generally effective in the near-term at protecting infrastructure landward of the structure, these measures are costly, require regular upkeep as the climate continues to change, tend to accelerate beach erosion, and negatively affect coastal ecosystems. 

Solutions built on nature-based approaches have the potential to not only mitigate damage, but also build resiliency into the future and provide additional benefits to ecosystems and communities. Nature-based solutions have been accepted conceptually in California, but few projects have been implemented because they require application across a patchwork of jurisdictions and authorities. 

This project will provide foundational science and enable the agency collaboration necessary to address the regional-scale management challenges posed by sea level rise. By integrating field research with numerical modeling—adapting the USGS CoSMoS model—at key representative locations across 300 miles of the California coast, the project team will identify representative coastal habitats and management challenges in the region and quantify shoreline response to the impacts of sea level rise under different adaptation scenarios. 

Working with stakeholders from 17 federal, state, and local agencies, the project was designed to directly support decision making (e.g., informing restoration plans), and will host a series of peer-to-peer workshops for transportation-focused stakeholders to support broader uptake of nature-based adaptation strategies.

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