In the wake of major hurricanes and devastating flooding events hitting the United States in just the last month, experts from the public, private and academic sectors met at Stanford University on September 19 to discuss the many threats to coastal communities connected to a changing climate and warming temperatures (read event program, speaker bios, and more).

The all-day forum included panels on sea level rise, ocean health, and a deep dive into issues involving the San Francisco Bay Area and coastal management. The event was held as part of the Building Coastal Resilience for Greater U.S. Security Project sponsored by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Hoover Institution and Wilson Center, and opened by Perry L. McCarty Director Chris Field.

Watch Video of the Event

“Most of nature is ocean and so if you care about nature, you have to mainly care about the ocean,” said Julie Packard, Executive Director, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Vice Chairman, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, when explaining in her keynote talk that one of the greatest challenges to improving ocean health is communication and mobilizing people.

Secretary John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency was also a featured speaker and described the need to motivate thoughtful policy, such as marine protected areas, to advance coastal protection in the state. He also emphasized the connection between climate emissions and the rising threats to coastal areas and communities.

Moderated by Katharine Mach, senior research scientist at the School of Earth Energy & Environmental Sciences and director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Facility, the first panel on sea level rise discussed contributions form melting ice caps and the societal implications of rising seas, worsening storm surge and flooding, and the potential need for communities to relocate further inland. Speakers included Dustin Schroeder, a radio glaciologist and assistant professor at the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Jane McKee Smith, Senior Research Scientist for Hydrodynamic Phenomenon at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Benjamin Strauss, Vice President for Sea Level and Climate Impacts at Climate Central.

“When we look back at the geologic record, we know there are periods where sea level has gone up an order of magnitude faster than now. And so the question is can parts of Antarctica also accelerate in that way?” said Schroeder when discussing how different ice sheets on earth could contribute to sea level and the need for more observations to understand what’s happening under kilometers of ice.

“The retreat of arctic sea ice and the change that is happening there is affecting us all globally,” explained Fran Ulmer, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and a featured speaker on the second panel. Moderated by Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience at the Wilson Center, the panel featured diverse perspectives from the oil and gas industry, fishermen, the research sector, and the government sector and discussed ocean health in a changing climate.

When asked by an audience member "Who are you trying to help?" pointing to concerns about island populations and the threats to indigenous and marginalized groups, Fiorenza Micheli, Director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, said "I'm very strongly motivated by those that don't have a voice: the animals and the people that are on the receiving end of climate change and lack the power and the infrastructure to respond."

The closing session was led by Alice Hill, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and included private, public, and academic sector stakeholders discussing practical solutions and co-produced science ideas to enhance the contribution of science to public projects and policies.

“Actionable science is what we really need and co-produced actionable science is what is the most beneficial,” said David Behar, Climate Program Director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who explained that ‘co-produced’ science involves “an iterative, collaborative process across the borders between science and policy that draws upon the unique needs, experience, and even the limitations of each party, providing the strongest possible underpinning for societal action in response to the consequences of climate change.”

Mary Ruckelshaus, Managing Director of the Natural Capital Project, agreed that science and policy makers must communicate and work together more and discussed many of the projects researchers at the Natural Capital Project are involved in that have real value for planners such as understanding sea level rise impacts in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The next event will be convened on Friday, October 20 at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.