Look Ahead–San Mateo is a climate visualization project

By seeing current and future threats posed by sea level rise to San Mateo County, people can better understand how climate change is impacting the places where they live and find out ways to get involved in local climate adaptation planning.

Look Ahead–San Mateo is produced by the non-profit Climate Access in partnership with Owlized with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IX. It is part of the County’s Sea Change SMC program, which is supported by the California Coastal Conservancy. It includes a research project designed to test visualizations as a tool to engage communities in planning for climate disruption overseen by Dr. Susanne Moser in conjunction with Antioch University. This builds on the Here-Now-Us project in Marin County in 2015, which generated input from close to 4,000 community members into sea level rise planning efforts.

Coyote Point’s two OWL digital viewfinders – devices modeled after the classic coin-operated binoculars commonly found at scenic viewpoints – offer passersby a free 360-degree view, in the very location they are standing, of current and expected impacts of sea level rise as well as planned and potential responses to it.

Data Behind the Visualizations

Viz 3 - Pocket beach right view

The visualizations are based on the Adapting to Rising Tides sea-level rise and extreme tide maps for San Mateo County, developed by AECOM using data from FEMA and the San Francisco Estuary Institute. By using this data with a detailed computerized 3D image of the Coyote Point location (created using information obtained through a remote sensing method called Lidar—Light Detection and Ranging), it was possible to extrapolate how the area is already and could be impacted by flooding.

The first visualization shows modest flooding from the equivalent of a storm and a King Tide based on an AECOM analysis. The second visualization shows what this same event could look like when combined with scientific projections for sea-level rise over the coming decades. The third visualization was built in a 3D modeling program using data from San Mateo County’s Eastern Promenade Rejuvenation Project for Coyote Point. The fourth visualization takes the amount of flooding depicted in the second visualization and shows a variety of strategies that could be combine to minimize impacts of sea level rise. It shows the restoration of a more natural shoreline that still allows for recreation. It features tidal marshes in the zone between freshwater and saltwater (using – for example – sediment from local flood-control channels) and a horizontal levee that protects the natural area and wildlife with its gradual slope, which also boots the uptake of carbon with its vegetation and marsh soils. For more information on these potential responses, see the Live Edge Adaptation Project.

Data Behind San Mateo County’s Vulnerability Assessment

San Mateo County’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment maps the community assets that would be most impacted from sea level rise, which the list of 30 at risk locations represents.

The assessment was developed based on three sea level rise scenarios reflecting the range of flooding risks the region faces using the Our Coast Our Future tool. Where and when flooding will occur was determined using the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) methodology created by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and being applied in the other nine Bay Area counties. Criteria for promoting healthy natural systems were incorporated into the assessment as well from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Updates Report (2015). San Mateo County has also leveraged experience gained through projects funded by the Coastal Conservancy’s Climate Ready Grant Program, the Ocean Protection Council’s Local Coastal Program Sea-Level Rise Grant Program, and the California Coastal Commission’s Local Coastal Program Planning Grant Program.