The Tongan Tsunami Was Another Window Into a Bay Area Amid the Climate Crisis

After the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano triggered a global tsunami warning — the volcanic blast now perhaps the most violent eruption ever captured by satellite — deep waves of displaced water began traveling toward the West Coast, including the Bay Area. Though the National Weather Service indicated that peak waves from the tsunami were around 2 feet, widespread flooding was observed across the Bay Area.

The Santa Cruz harbor, for example, saw a sizable tsunami swell that caused damage to piers, uprooted trash cans, and left parked cars completely submerged as waves worked their way inland. Soquel Creek in Santa Cruz flowed backward due to the tsunami retreating waves. Docks in the Marina were decimated, some left destroyed and in need of expensive repairs. Waves ran up Del Monte Beach in Monterey; the City of Berkeley evacuated some 113 people from boats docked at the Berkeley Marina out of an abundance of caution.

Saturday’s events were only exacerbated by January’s king tides and the fact that the tsunami made landfall during high tide, as well — the two circumstances only adding to the pontifical nature of this tsunami.

TBI’s former associate editor Andrew Chamming wrote in 2016 that a 25’ sea rise would effectively wipe out the Embarcadero… as well Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission District, and the Marina District; these neighborhoods could disappear into the San Francisco Bay in a century. Though that severity of sea-level rise won’t come our way by 2050, the next three decades might see the San Francisco Bay swell by up nearly two feet, which could more than triple by the end of the century.

Because of this looming climate catastrophe, SF Port Commission released a report last November saying the City will need to raise parts of the Embarcadero by some six feet to avoid the worst of the flooding, per KQED. And if you’ve spent any time near Foster City within the past year, you’ll notice that the City has begun installing a twelve-foot sea wall meant to protect nearby real estate from rising sea levels for at least the next two decades.

Sea rise, too, will wreak havoc on local economies. Millions of people in the region currently work in buildings that are collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars within the Bay Area’s projected sea-level rise zone. And as the tides continue to climb, the idea of simply constructing taller, thicker sea walls will become increasingly futile.

The answer? Redirect the flooding.

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