Starting this month, Californians use drones to gain firsthand view of El Niño’s effects on the state’s coastline. Amateur scientists will share the findings with The Nature Conservancy researchers and other experts to help them make predictions on future erosion and coastal flooding events.
El Niño is a recurrent weather event that is usually accompanied by some of the wettest winters in years. But its major downside is that it is often paired with coastal flooding and aggressive erosion.
Scientists now hope that crowd-sourced images produced by ‘citizen scientists’ could help them improve and confirm their models on the future sea level rise and changes brought to California’s shores.
High resolution imagery taken by drones can help researchers improve their predictive models, and make sure that the forecasts are accurate, explained Matt Merrifield of the The Nature Conservancy.
Merrifield noted that current models lack empirical evidence, so comparing them with images taken by the public it would be a means to ‘ground-truth’ projections. Climate change researchers have often cautioned that El Niño may trigger storms and coastal changes that may take both coastal communities and state authorities by surprise
Still, experts said that the experiment may not yield the scientifically accurate data they all been hoping for, but it is a good start. Lesley Ewing of the California Coastal Commission noted that the project is just a piece of the puzzle, not a full answer.
Climate models predict that nearly 500,000 people and about $100 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure including schools and public roads would be affected by floods, if sea level gets higher by 4.6 feet. The scenario is very likely to occur by the end of the century, experts believe.
A Pacific Institute study found that California beaches would be the most affected with some of them shrinking, while others completely disappearing by 2100. Storms caused by El Niño events could have similar effects on beaches, though only temporary.
Ewing explained that major El-Niño-fueled winter storms often lead to beach losses. So, with help from imagery taken by population, researchers could ‘make a documentary on the future,” Ewing said. In other words, researchers could take a grasp on how California’s coastal areas would look like in the next 100 years.
But the mapping has some limitations. It won’t be able to tell which beaches will no longer exist by 2100 and which of the bluffs will be completely eroded.