Southern California environment news and trends

America’s coast threatened by rising sea levels

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A new study by Climate Central finds that as much as 32 percent of America’s coastal regions could potentially be affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming over coming decades. As reported in the New York Times, up to 3.7 million Americans live within four feet of high tide, where the effects would be the most drastic.

"Sea level rise is not some distant problem that we can just let our children deal with. The risks are imminent and serious," said Ben Strauss, a member of Climate Central and primary author of two papers outlining the research to NJ.com. "Just a small amount of sea level rise, including what we may well see within the next 20 years, can turn yesterday’s manageable flood into tomorrow’s potential disaster."

While Florida is the most vulnerable state, California is among the top five alongside New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana. According to Strauss in the Chicago Tribune, Southern California is particularly susceptible as the area rarely sees storms that rise beyond three feet, and "they'll be seeing water to 4 feet regularly,” resulting in “coastal flooding like they've never seen before."

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Water contamination plagues California farm regions

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Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images

A sobering new UC Davis study reports that nitrate contamination is prevalent in California’s Central Valley and neighboring areas like Salinas, with the problem likely to get worse in the years and even decades to come.

According to Epoch Times, as much as 10 percent of the people living in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valleys are drinking water contaminated with nitrates, with the potential of four out of five area residents dealing with the physical and financial fallout over the next 40 years. The contamination is primarily a result of fertilizers and animal waste from the bustling agricultural activity throughout the region.

As reported by MSNBC, increased nitrate levels have been connected to a series of health issues including cancer, skin rashes and “blue baby syndrome,” a blood disease that can lead to infant death.

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California and USC engineers team up to study potential tsunami scenarios

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Kim White/Getty Images

A woman watches as tsunami surges hit the coast on March 11, 2011 in Half Moon Bay, California.

As the world pauses to remember the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan last year, California is taking precautions to brace the coast in case something similar happens here.

According to R&D, engineers from USC and the state of California will use hydrodynamic computer modeling and past tsunami data to study how the state’s coast is affected when they occur. One of the primary goals of the study is to create new coastal flooding maps and potential escape routes.

As reported by Patch, last year’s tsunami in Japan caused considerable damage along California’s coast, and created swirling currents in Santa Barbara and Marina del Rey that according to the San Francisco Chronicle, could have been much worse had the tsunami hit at high tide.

"California is being proactive in its effort to re-evaluate certain elements of its tsunami preparedness based on lessons learned from the Japan event," said Jose Borrero, the Adjunct Research Professor of the USC Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and one of the study’s primary conductors. "During the Japan tsunami, even though we knew how big the waves were going to be, we severely underestimated the strength and duration of the currents."

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Google designs self-driving cars for California

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It’s not exactly public transportation, but developers at Google, Inc. are designing technology that allows cars to drive themselves. Democratic State Senator Alex Padilla is so enamored with the plans that he let a Google-designed self-driving Toyota Prius give him a lift to Sacramento to hold a news conference about it.

As reported by the Environment News Service, the reason for the occasion was Padilla’s announcement of his legislation, Senate Bill 1298, which would instruct the California Highway Patrol to start “developing guidelines” around testing and ultimately unleashing self-driving vehicles on California roads.

The Google system utilizes a “laser range finder” on the car's roof, and no less than four radars mounted on the front and back bumpers. A camera keeps an eye on traffic lights.

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California’s lone gray wolf: just visiting

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And then there were none.

After much exaltation, celebration and even some classic rock inspiration, California’s lone gray wolf has decided to turn tail and return to Oregon. Not that the wolf called Journey (AKA OR7) didn’t have a good reason. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the poor guy just couldn’t find a mate.

The animal has been tracked via radio collar for the past two months, and has wandered the Siskiyou, Shasta and Lassen counties, “likely searching for a mate to start his own pack.” When his search turned up empty, he began the lonely march back to his home state.

The animal’s lack of success was not for lack of trying. As reported by the L.A. Times, the wolf has traveled more than 2,000 miles since last September, which Karen Kovacs, a wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Game, calls “just incredible.”

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