Among the top Google News search results today for “climate change” is a National Public Radio (NPR) article claiming the Google and Facebook campuses near San Francisco Bay are vulnerable to rising seas caused by climate change. The article worries that the tech industry may saddle taxpayers with the costs of relocating or protecting their campuses from rising seas. However, the rising-sea scenarios presented by NPR are far-fetched and extremely unlikely to happen.
The NPR article is titled, “Who Will Pay To Protect Tech Giants From Rising Seas?” The article’s premise is that “the world’s biggest tech companies are expanding their headquarters on the edge of San Francisco Bay” and that two feet of sea level rise would leave them vulnerable to flooding in a once-in-a-generation coastal storm.
The article claims, “In just a few decades, sea levels could rise almost 2 feet, flooding the area if a major storm hits.”
However, global sea level is rising at a pace of just 1 foot per century, and this modest pace has remained relatively unchanged since the mid-1800s. Unless a dramatic, immediate change in sea-level rise occurs, global sea level will not rise 2 feet until the year 2221 or so, not “in just a few decades.”
For a variety of reasons, sea level does not rise at the same pace at every location. Along California’s coastline, the Pacific Ocean tectonic plate is undercutting the western United States landmass, causing seas to rise at a slower pace there than the global average.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains tidal gauges along the full length of America’s coastal shores. At NOAA’s San Francisco tidal gauge, seas are rising at a pace of just 8 inches per century. NOAA’s nearby Redwood City gauge shows seas are rising at a pace of just 10 inches per century. NOAA’s nearby Alameda gauge shows seas are rising at a pace of just 4 inches per century.
Therefore, it is clear that neither the pace of global sea-level rise nor any of the local tidal gauges even remotely support NPR’s assertion that “In just a few decades, sea levels could rise almost 2 feet, flooding the area if a major storm hits.”
Rest easy, giant tech corporations, your campuses are safe from sea-level rise.
[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: By The Pancake of Heaven! – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77221979]
Of course, even if their projected rise did occur, it would be trivial to build protective levies along the bay front.