NASA Visualizes Sea Level Rise in San Francisco Bay Area

By Gretchen Weber, KQED ClimateWatch

Taking global climate models and “downscaling” them for use at the local level is an ongoing challenge for scientists and for planners. But thanks to new climate projections from NASA, the Bay Area now has a sharper view of what may be in store.


This map shows parts of southern San Francisco Bay that are vulnerable to flooding from a 16-inch sea level rise by mid-century. Credit: San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

NASA says two-thirds of its facilities are at risk from sea-level rise, including Ames Research Center, which sits at the southern edge of San Francisco Bay. So, it's not exactly altruism that motivated the agency to deploy its own scientists to take a closer look at what climate change will really mean on the ground in places where it's heavily invested.

“This is the first time we're actually working with our scientists and taking the data that's usually at hundreds of miles by hundreds of miles and bringing it down to the local level,” said Olga Dominguez, assistant administrator for NASA's Office of Strategic Infrastructure.

Dominguez was at NASA Ames on Friday for a conference on climate change impacts in the South Bay.

NASA scientists used historic local temperature and precipitation data and sea level rise records from San Francisco to downscale global climate models to produce projections for the southwestern Bay Area, which includes Ames.

Their results indicate that by 2050:

  • average temps could rise 2-4°F
  • sea level could rise 6-9 inches
  • precipitation could increase OR decrease up to 15 percent
  • [The number of] days per year above 90°F could increase from 8 to 15

Next the agency is drawing up adaption plans for each facility.

Will Travis, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), says both NASA's science, and its ideas for solutions, are welcome.

“We have this rich resource at NASA, a great deal of wonderful science, and getting that applied at the local level is quite a challenge,” said Travis, who was a speaker at Friday's conference.

“This conference is showing how NASA can be doing that at a facility level, and that information and techniques and those approaches are great models for other businesses and other communities in the Bay Area.”

There are detailed maps of projected sea level rise for the Bay Area at both the BCDC and the USGS websites.

This article is from KQED ClimateWatch, a Climate Central content partner.