Climate Change Research Plan

2020-2021 Executive Summary

Global climate change will fundamentally alter how aquatic systems are managed. As anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions drive increasingly severe changes to weather, rainfall patterns, and ocean temperature and chemistry, water-quality managers will be tasked with developing long-term strategies and management responses. Although climate change drivers operate primarily at a global scale, the impacts will largely be managed at a local scale. To that end, Southern California managers must be prepared to confront the local impacts of climate change that are independent of water-quality impacts, including understanding how water bodies of all kinds are being altered by changing environmental conditions, and how the diverse plant and animal communities they support are impacted by these changes. SCCWRP is helping Southern California water-quality managers connect rapidly growing knowledge about the physical manifestations of climate change to aquatic ecosystem responses. SCCWRP’s end goal is to provide managers with viable, cost-effective strategies and tools for mitigating and offsetting climate change’s ecosystem impacts.

SCCWRP’s research is focused around four main areas: (1) Altered hydrological flow patterns, which encompasses how changing rainfall and runoff patterns, drought cycles, and changing water use and reuse practices are impacting efforts by California’s water resources management community to optimally protect the environmental flows that sustain aquatic ecosystems; (2) sea level rise, which encompasses how vulnerable animals and plants in coastal wetlands and other low-lying habitats will be impacted by rising sea levels in the coming decades, and how California’s coastal resources management community can use these insights to protect sensitive species and preserve maximum ecological functioning; (3) warming waters, which encompasses how to protect both public and ecosystem health from toxic cyanobacterial blooms and proliferation of other nuisance species that are becoming more common as waters warm; and (4) ocean acidification and hypoxia, which encompasses how corrosive coastal ocean conditions and low dissolved oxygen levels threaten the health of marine food webs, and how California’s water-quality management community can better control and manage human activities on land to mitigate ecological impacts at sea.

This year, SCCWRP will continue to focus on understanding biotic responses to the stressors of climate change. SCCWRP’s focus for 2020-21 will be on:

  • Assessments of the biological impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia: As SCCWRP builds unique capacity to assess changing seawater chemistry conditions (temperature, oxygen, pH) resulting from ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH), SCCWRP will continue working to understand how sensitive biological communities are being impacted and how these impacts will intensify in the coming decades. SCCWRP’s focus areas include: (1) identifying the pathways of biological impacts and the best indicators for measuring these effects; (2) identifying the seawater chemistry thresholds at which these biological impacts occur; and (3) characterizing the relative importance of these effects, both individually and at a population level. SCCWRP will continue to facilitate efforts to build international consensus on the thresholds at which sentinel organisms can be expected to experience adverse acidification impacts. SCCWRP also will continue laboratory experiments, field experiments, and historical data analyses to better characterize how multiple stressors, including OAH, are affecting economically and ecologically important marine populations. This work will include partnering on West Coast-wide acidification surveys and linking them to the Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program. Finally, SCCWRP will work with collaborators to develop integrative indices that predict potential effects of climate change stressors on various habitats, and then using biological models to extend these predictions to population-level effects.
  • Evaluating coastal adaptation strategies to sea level rise: SCCWRP will continue evaluating climate change adaptation strategies aimed at helping low-lying coastal wetlands persist in the face of sea level rise – specifically, expected increases in mean sea level of several feet, as well as more intense and frequent storm surge. In particular, SCCWRP is developing linked physical and biological models to evaluate how strategies such as augmenting accretion, management of mouth dynamics, and facilitating transgression can help reduce anticipated wetland losses associated with sea level rise.