Coastal hazards

Selection of Scripps Oceanography & UC San Diego research & resources


Projected changes in sea level rise due to a changing climate

Global warming is widely expected to contribute to rising sea levels in the near future, posing a risk for the 1 billion people inhabiting coasts and coastal city infrastructure, including roads, railways, harbors, businesses, and homes.1 Recent studies by Scripps scientists and collaborators from the California Ocean Protection Council and California Natural Resource Agency reported that after 2050, sea level rise projections will increasingly depend on greenhouse gas emission, and even with successful mitigation efforts coastal cities will feel the effects. For example, it is estimated there is a 67% chance the San Diego Region will experience sea level rise between 1.3 and 2.8 feet by 2100.2

PIs: Daniel Cayan, Mark Merrifield, David Pierce


Predicting storm surge and coastal flooding from extreme weather

In the next two decades, high sea level events will be primarily a result of extreme winter storms and effects of El Niño. Winter storm and storm surge, in particular during elevated sea levels, can cause extreme sea level rise and flooding along the coast. Augmenting  long-term sea level rise estimates, Scripps scientists have developed hourly sea level projections from several global climate models that quantify the increases in the magnitude and frequency of these extreme precipitation events as sea level rises.3  Daniel Cayan, a researcher for Scripps’s California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP), participated in the National Research Council study of West Coast Sea Level rise (NRC, 2012), which is considered the best state of the science document for sea-level rise on the west coast. CNAP research is used by coastal managers to conform to FEMA requirements.  In addition, The Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation (CCCIA), Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) and Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCOOS) partner to research, generate, and disseminate coastal flood forecasts that combine tidal and wave runup effects to provide several days’ notice to coastal communities and infrastructure managers in exposed locations.

PIs: Daniel Cayan, Robert Guza, David Pierce, Mark Merrifield, Clarissa Anderson


LiDAR surveys for monitoring coastlines

Scripps physical oceanographer Luc Lenain is leading aircraft-based measurements using an imaging suite called the Modular Aerial Sensing System (MASS). During flights along the Southern California coast, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) equipment measures the elevation of sand and cliffs along California’s beaches as they respond to storms and sea levels as much as 23 centimeters higher than historical averages. LiDAR coupled with GPS and motion sensors scans swaths of beach and ocean more than 600 meters wide with coastal topography on the scale of centimeters. LiDar studies lead by Scripps scientist Adam Young provides new coastal cliff erosion rates for 680 miles of Southern California coast with a new hazard scale to identify areas at highest rate of collapse. These studies are of particular interest to coastal US Navy bases and ports as they plan for changing coastlines and impacts of sea level rise to infrastructure.

PIs: Luc Lenain, Adam Young


Monitoring and prediction of waves

The Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) is an extensive network for monitoring waves and beaches along the coastlines of the United States. Since its inception in 1975, the program has produced a vast database of publicly-accessible environmental data for use by coastal engineers and planners, scientists, mariners, and marine enthusiasts. The program has also remained at the forefront of coastal monitoring, developing numerous innovations in instrumentation, system control and management, computer hardware and software, field equipment, and installation techniques. Through the CDIP website and in cooperation with NOAA’s National Weather Service and National Data Buoy Center, the program’s latest measurements are distributed to thousands of users each and every hour.

PIs: James Behrens, Eric Terrill

Work with Scripps

  • Access leading climate and oceanographic expertise for decision-making and product development
  • Design collaborative research that tackles risk due to sea level rise and flooding
  • Get a seat at the table for the latest scientific updates
  • Learn how to implement newest models for sea level rise and storm surge
  • Work with talented Scripps students and potential new hires
Selected scientists

Dr. Clarissa Anderson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Executive Director, Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System


Dr. Daniel Cayan, Researcher, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Director, California Nevada Applications Program

Director, California Climate Change Center


Professor Mark Merrifield, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Presidential Chair for Climate Change Impacts & Adaptation

Chair, Center for Climate Change Impacts & Adaptation


Dr. James Behrens, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Principal Engineer/Program Manager, Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP)

  1. Elko, I etal(eds.). 2014. The future of nearshore processes research. 83 (1): 13-38.
  2. Griggs, G etal(California Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team Working Group). Rising Seas in California: An update on sea-level rise science. California Ocean Science trust, April
  3. Allison, I, Alley RB, Fricker HA, Thomas RH, Warner RC.  2009.  Ice sheet mass balance and sea level. Antarctic Science. 21:413-426.