Water World: Surfing and Climate Change
Chris Borg, Surfline’s Senior Pacific Forecaster, published a blog last week about how climate change and the melting Arctic ice cap will affect surfing. The first effect Borg noted was that due to increased solar energy absorbed by an ice-free Arctic Ocean, there will be bigger and more frequent storms in the North Pacific, bringing more swell to the California coast. The connection between climate change and extreme weather is definitely supported by the latest research, and so we can certainly expect more storms as our climate transforms. More swell is always welcome and after this lackluster California summer many surfers might be saying “Bring it on!”
The other potential that Borg mentions is that an ice-free Arctic may yield new frontiers for surf exploration. I like to consider myself an adventurous guy but Borg’s description of surfing the Arctic did not trigger that wanderlust: “It will be sort of like summer surf in the Gulf of Mexico, except with polar storms taking the place of hurricanes, much colder water and a whole new level of windswell chop to work with.”
But what did Borg miss in his description of surfing in a warming world?
-Sea level rise. This is a big one. Some of my favorite reef and point breaks in California will only break on a low-tide. We often hear surfers say “There’s just too much water right now. Wait for it to drop.” These low-tide spots are often the fastest, steepest and hollowest waves because they break over shallow reef. If these waves are affected by the hourly change of tides, it is not hard to imagine that a predicted three-foot sea level rise would ruin many of them. Tragically, sea-level rise may even wipe out entire nations such as Kiribati, which has already begun looking for a new home for displaced residents, the Maldives, a surfing paradise and subject of the award-winning film The Island President, and coastal communities worldwide.
-Ocean Acidification. As the oceans absorb carbon from the atmosphere, the chemistry of the seawater is altered so that the oceans are rapidly becoming more acidic. Although we have a long way to go before an ocean dip will turn us into Harvey Dent, acidification will absolutely affect marine ecosystems, starting with coral reefs. Many of the best waves of the world break over coral which will be unable to survive if the little guys can’t build their calcium shells in acid oceans. Buh-bye, Pipeline.
-Jelly Invasion. Corals won’t be the only marine organisms affected by climate change. Climate change and other human activities are causing unbalance in marine ecosystems. As ecosystems around the blue world adjust, there may be some strange effects. How would you like to surf in a jelly invasion??
Climate change is so big it is sometimes hard to visualize how it will impact our individual lives. But destroy Pipeline before I have a chance to make the pilgrimage? Now that’s personal.