Posts by Jenni Zell

long_beach_california_from_airplane_looking_north

AHBE Landscape Architects is collaborating with Cal Poly Pomona landscape architecture students on a coastal resiliency design studio with Professor Barry Lehrman and his fourth-year undergraduate students. AHBE Lab will be highlighting selections of the student’s work nearly every Wednesday for the next several weeks. The project site is the coastline from the Port of Long Beach to Anaheim Bay. Students are in their third week of class (field-trip week) and this week they will be meeting with Dr. Christine Whitcraft of Cal State Long Beach Wetlands Ecology Lab; Carrie Metzgar and Larry Rich from the City of Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability in addition to exploring areas around the Long Beach waterfront.

(more…)

underwaterpavilions

Growing up, my older brother and I spent most of our summers nearby or in the ocean. One place we frequently snorkeled and skin dived was around Catalina Island. On these trips my brother would bring home loads of large abalone for my mother to fry up for dinner. Fast forward a few decades to today, and my own ocean-swimming children will not be bringing back abalone from their trips to Catalina Island. This is not for a lack of trying. The once abundant marine gastropod is now functionally extinct; in the last decade alone white abalone populations in Southern California have decrease nearly 80% percent.

Artist Doug Aitken placed his recent work Underwater Pavilions into the waters off Catalina Island last month in the same location that my brother and I used to swim. The large geometric sculptures act as portals into the underwater environment, detailed with alternating rough rock-like and mirrored surfaces from which light reflects and refracts. The exhibit obliquely draws attention to the effect humans are having on the oceans by raising awareness of its presence.

Last weekend at MOCA, I watched a video installation documenting the Underwater Pavilions projected onto a large screen in a viewing room, part of a larger Doug Aitken retrospective. The video is visually and audibly stunning, and I was reminded of those earlier times exploring underwater worlds. One scene in the video showed a sea lion inspecting the sculpture. I know I am anthropomorphizing, but the sea lion looked simultaneously curious and concerned.

In addition to polluting ocean waters and over-fishing, human activities pump about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. According to NOAA, the ocean absorbs about a quarter of all that carbon. The result is a change in the very chemistry of the ocean waters. Because of all this extra absorbed carbon dioxide, the oceans are currently 30% more acidic today in comparison to the pre-industrial revolution era.

It is no wonder the sea lion inspecting Aitken’s bauble seemed both curious and concerned. Not only have humans radically altered the chemistry of the ocean, we have severely reduced one of its favorite foods, the abalone. The sea lion in Aiken’s video appears to recognize that human activities significantly impacts the coastal food web and their species survival. What seems less apparent to our own species  – some whom mistakenly believe America will be made great again with the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA – is the survival of all species is interconnected.

Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich, puts it this way: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

1913-map_cropped

The pre-and post-settlement history of coastal California is likely familiar to most Southern Californians, and the most well known scenario imagines a flourishing coastal plain landscape with wetlands and estuaries supporting an abundance of plant and animal species. But after decades of intensive development, less than 10% of the original coastal wetlands remains along the California’s southern coastline. In other words, post-settlement, paradise was paved.

One problem with paving, armoring, and channelizing is that the strategy does not address the fluid and dynamic character of the natural systems that provides protection. Sediment flows from the mountains and plains, depositing onto the coast via the movement of water. Ocean currents and wave action redistribute this material, with coastal bluffs collapsing into the ocean, nourishing beaches. Paving, armoring, and channelizing are brittle solutions that offer a temporary solution, but ultimately require more paving, armoring, and channelizing to continue to provide effective protection against these natural cycles and systems.

This points to another problem with applying brittle solutions to protect development: the tremendous loss of public trust land. According to the California State Lands Commission, the Public Trust Doctrine “protects sovereign lands, such as tide and submerged lands and the beds of navigable waterways, for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the public.”

While utilizing hard engineering solutions to address the fluidity and episodically destructive forces of natural systems has undoubtedly saved lives and protected private property, the long-term cumulative result is a staggering loss of California beaches, bluffs, and wetlands – all distinguishing features of the California landscape that attract people to visit, stay, and continually fuel a demand for more development.

port-area-map

Because our species doesn’t carry our homes on our backs like the permanent inhabitants of the coastal zone like mollusks, crabs, and shellfish, our species must find flexible solutions to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the coastal zone – including the cycle of sediment deposit – or risk losing the hallmark of the Public Trust Doctrine:

“The trust lands belong to the public and are to be used to promote publicly beneficial uses that connect the public to the water.”

marine_debris_hawaii_cropped

Photo: NOAA

Amid the disappointing election results last Tuesday there were some bright spots to be found, especially for residents of California. One of these victories worth of celebration was the passage of Prop 67, the California Bag Ban. Every year eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean. Eliminating single-use plastic shopping bags in the state of California will help to protect 840 miles of Pacific coastline from one egregious type of plastic pollution.

Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

Plastic shopping bags have been banned in Long Beach since August 1, 2011, and the ban was among several reasons why I moved to the city. I wanted to live in a community with progressive environmental policies.

Since the Long Beach City Council passed the ban, there has been a reduction in plastic pollution and a decrease in the amount of plastic litter in our community. This law will help protect marine ecosystems (over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs) and can also be considered a major victory for human health alongside for the health of our environment. Similar to the 2002’s California Clean Car Standards, which required stricter emission standards than the federal requirements and ultimately set vehicular emission standards for the rest of the nation, California is again leading the way, this time in the war against plastic pollution.

Coast Guardsmen rescue stranded residents from high water during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 14, 2016. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles. Creative Commons Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Coast Guardsmen rescue stranded residents from high water during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 14, 2016. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles. Creative Commons Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Last week at the Southern California ASLA Awards, I had the chance to speak with ASLA national president, Chad Danos. Chad lives in Louisiana and reminded me that thousands of people are still recovering from the 500 year flood that impacted more than 1,000 square miles, flooded more the 60,000 homes, and impacted 7,364 Louisiana businesses. Chad’s daughter’s school campus was not open, as repairs were still being made from the August flooding. In south Louisiana, disruption to daily life from weather events is beginning to feel normalized.

A map of radar-estimated rainfall accumulations across Louisiana between August 9 and 16, 2016; areas shaded in white indicate accumulations in excess of 20 in (510 mm). Graphic: Public Domain

A map of radar-estimated rainfall accumulations across Louisiana between August 9 and 16, 2016; areas shaded in white indicate accumulations in excess of 20 in (510 mm). Graphic: Public Domain

According to CNN Weather, 6.9 trillion gallons (over 21 million acre-feet) of rain fell on the state of Louisiana between August 8th and 14th, 2016. Researchers at the University of California at Davis estimated that California’s 2015 water shortage was 2.5 million acre-feet, which would cost the state $2.7 billion. In six days Louisiana received nearly ten times the amount of water that the California’s Central Valley’s aquifers naturally refill at in a year.

HAARP antenna array. Public Domain photo: Michael Kleiman, US Air Force

HAARP antenna array. Public Domain photo: Michael Kleiman, US Air Force

There are many conspiracy theories focused around government controlled climate modification programs such as the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) causing earthquakes and major storms, with worries about significant disruption or harm to human life, natural and economic resources or other assets. Scary as it sounds, significant disruption is happening and it may be time to push for exploration of the use of environmental modifications techniques, through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes, to help us all.