Tag Archives: shoreline change

We Think Our Shores Are Stable,–but Need to Know that They Are Not

All maps stake propositions:  as much as embody geographical information, they make arguments about how a landscape is inhabited.  But climate change maps that model future scenarios of warming, increasing dryness, sea-level rise, or glacial melting are propositions in a strict sense, as they construct frames of reference that orient us to, in the very ways Wittgenstein described propositions, “a world as it were put together experimentally.”  Shoreline change can be mapped in deep historical time, or over the past century, in interactive ways that reveal and allow us to zoom in on individual sites of sensitivity–





–but the processes of mapping such change cannot rely on contour lines drawn on a base map.  For to do so is to abstract a static photograph from a global process that they only compel one to try to better visualize and comprehend.  The processes of change are extremely complex patterns of causation that exceed most map-viewers competencies, despite the wide diffusion of claims and counter-claims about global warming and climate change in public discourse, which has effectively increasingly threatened to dislodge the preeminence of any position of expertise on the issue, demoting the actuality to a theory and removing many public statements on its existence from the map of coastal change, or the relation of the land to submerged territory.  We are in danger of adopting an increasingly terrestrial or land-locked relation to how climate change affects shores, because we map from the boundary of the landform, as if it were fixed rather than a frontier of interchange and exchange, both above an under ground.




Far more than other maps, maps of climate change demand unique training, skills, and education to unpack in their consequences.  And when the propositions staked in maps of climate change have increasingly come under attack for political implications, as if the scenarios of climate change are formed by a cabal of data scientists and climate scientists to advance independent agendas, or a poorly articulated and politicized climate research, it seems that the special skills used to interpret them and the training to view them have come under attack for not corresponding to the world.

Real fears of the danger of the delegitimization of science run increasingly high.  But attacking the amazingly dense arrays of data that they synthesize seems to suggest an interest in shutting down the very visualizations that allowed us to conceive and come to terms with climate change.  The open suggestion that digitized scenarios of climate maps were only designed to terrify audiences and advance interests not only undermines discussion and debate, but seems a technique to destabilize the emergence of any consensus on climate change.  Although the fears of an immediate loss of climate data may be overstated for the nation, the loss of a role in preserving a continuous record of global climate data is considerable given fears of reducing space-based remote sensing.  Such observation provide one of the only bases to map global climate data, ranging from aridity to water temperature to temperature change over time.  The hard-line stances that Trump holds about climate sciences are expressed in terms of the costs they generate–“very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit,”–but extend to denigration of climate scientists as a “glassy-eyed cult” by science advisor William Happer–who in George W Bush’s Dept. of Energy minimized the effect of man-made emissions on climate change.

Both bode poorly for the continued funding of the research agenda of NASA’s earth sciences division.  And the need to preserve a more coherent maps of man-made climate change grow, choosing the strategies to do so command increased attention.  The dangerous dismissal of climate sciences as yet another instance of “listening to the government lie to them about margarine and climate change” or prioritizing the political impact of their findings to draw attention to global warming and climate change seems to minimize the human impact on climate and recall the censorship of climate science reports from government agencies by governmental agencies and political appointees from a time when de facto gag orders dissuaded use of the term “global warming” over a period of eight years, a period of the harassment and intimidation of climate scientists. The term of “climate change” seemed agnostic of human agency–unlike Al Gore’s conviction that “global warming” was a global emergency.  As well as actively destabilizing ties between human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases with global warming, Bush asked government agencies investigate “areas of uncertainty” which his successor tried to clarify through explicit research goals.


global warming


Yet the role of maps in making a public case for climate change and its consequences seem to have made the project of climate tracking and earth observation under increased attack, as the project of mapping climate is in danger of being removed once again from scientific conclusions about global temperature rise, subsurface ocean temperature rise, or glacial melting–as the ways that climate change maps embody actual environmental risks is effectively minimized.

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Filed under Climate Change, climate modeling, data visualization, environmental monitoring, manmade climate change

Mapping Open Waters: Bay or River?

The relation between land, sea, marsh, and landfill provided something of a dilemma of cartographical rendering in the Bay Area, mirroring the fluid relationship that has long existed between land and sea.  But if fluidity of the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay was less understood in terms of erosion, global warming, coastal flooding, and king tides back in the 1950s, the human fiction–and graphical statement–of the map provided a supple too to engage with the question of the shifting contours of land and sea in the years after John Reber sought to expand the landfill of West Berkeley to extend into the San Francisco Bay, in a monument of post-war engineering that triggered compelling tool of collective action to forestall the narrowing of the San Francisco Bay that might have been dramatically shrunk its size and habitat through a massive fill that effectively re-engineered the bay into a shipping harbor to housing tracts. A rallying cry to mobilize opinion around the planned contraction of the East Bay by landfill, expanding the projects that would landfilled, dike or leveed wetlands for development–

–by appropriating the map of a landfill project of 1961 to generate a broad coalition of protest against the imagined expansion of housing and shipping development in the East Bay. The printed map delineated how much was at stake in proposed coastal transformation so persuasively it became a powerful logo and rallying cry for the Save the Bay project that put the breaks on the continued development of much of East and South Bay by posing a simple question that asking readers to consider themselves stakeholders in a bulwark against massive environmental change in suggesting the near-apocalyptic scale of added landfill in dark black. While the story has been often told, the vital role an engineering map played in pushing back against vested propertied and industrial interests is arresting.

The simple two-tone graphic generated a broad awareness of the region at a significant time in urban development, and helped to brakes on the inertia behind the radical reengineering of the bay as a shipping lane. The Save San Francisco Bay project that was the contribution of three women tied to educational groups and educators at the local university by marriage mobilized public opinion around the preservation as the wife of the past University President, Kay Kerr, herself “very disturbed about the filing of the bay” assembled a group disturbed by how “ongoing filling of the edges of the bay for airports, harbors, subdivisions, freeways, industrial sites and garbage dumps,” threatened to transform its open waters to a biological desert. Aptly, she calling an assembled group of conservationists and neighbors to order a meeting in a home overlooking the bay by a map of a produced by the Army Corps of Engineers calling for adding landfill that would leave “little more than a ship channel down the middle,” as she put it.

Proposed 1959 “Reber Plan” for Barriers Expanding East Bay Piers as Shipping Corridor

The City of Berkeley eager to expand to provide more housing, sought to double in size by filling in 2,000 acres of the bay shallows. Indeed, as late as 1980, the City of Berkeley hoped to expand the bay waterfront into a shopping center, resulting in the public trust over tidelands of the East Bay that preserved them from bay fill almost two decades later, in a suit that one of the first legal advisors of the Save the Bay Association directed as amicus curiae, in City of Berkeley v. Superior Court (1980) 26 Cal.3d 515, continuing to defend the bay wetlands’ integry against a defined shoreline.

1. While we appreciate the restoration of the complex estuary along the Bayshore, as a fluid ecotone whose wetlands provide a rich habitat that is a success of land reclamation, the near-transformation of the eastern seashore of San Francisco Bay to a large development for housing may have eased the housing crunch afflicting the Bay Area, but would have erased that seashore, without public intervention, and prepared the restoration of the wetlands as a habitat, rebuilding the sinuous streams entering marshes as a delicate membrane of freshwater and saltwater.

Eastshore Park, Albany/Richmond CA

It was begun by a realization prompted from seeing a map announcing the future re-engineering of the San Francisco Bay, reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, and contemplating the possible extent of changes that would reconfigure the shore of an area that drains up to 40% of the land of the entire state, that prompted the preservation of its open waters. The prospect of such a radical remapping of the region’s open water–more than its shores alone–invested the planning map drawn up by the Army Corps of Engineers triggered the attention among three women over tea, contemplating the reduction o the Bay–and the beauty of vistas from their windows–against the areas up for potential expansion with landfill.

The expansion of areas that were long know to be low-lying waters, filled with centuries of sediment, led Army engineers to plan contracting the San Francisco Bay to a narrow shipping channel by 2020. In response, the movement was laid for the eventual moratorium on future addition of landfill to the Bay, and agreement in a precedent-setting permanent agency overseeing all shoreline development–that called off expanding housing to the low-lying waters of the Eastern Bayshore.

Increased addition of landfill that had already reduced by the low-lying estuary of San Francisco Bay by a third, with the elimination of wetlands, and set a model for coastal zone managment that would be a model for ecological preservation.

And the ability to restore much of the saltwater marshlands around the current Bay Trail and McLaughlin Park has helped to preserve the delicate ecotonal balance that is an ecosystem for shorebirds, owls, and other animals that a comparison between older and more recent maps of shoreline development of the old wetlands of the East Bay in the late nineteenth century, where freshwater creeks fed into salt marshes that provided a delicate shoreline coastal habitat.

The project for offshore expansion was only stopped by the Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC), if the overlay of maps suggest the delicate nature of the loss of wetlands at risk.

2. Despite the complexity of a bay whose shore includes over forty cities on its waters and in at 550 miles is about half the coastline of the entire state, the relcamation map simplified the massive reconfiguration of the region in ways that omitted questions of habitat or preservation entirely absent in 1960. The extent of coastal reconfiguration of the South Bay that had already proceeded, redefining its sloughs and estuaries, were in a sene extended in the proposed land reclamation project that can be seen as a huge expansion of the early expansion of Marin near Tiburon, on a scale scarcely imaginable before the postwar period. If reclaimed land had begun in wharfs and piers that extended into the San Francisco Bay’s waters in Marin, Tiburon, San Francisco and to some extent the East Bay, the cancellation of cross-bay transit was expanded in the hopes to expand land reclamation far beyond imagined, beyond southern Marin, to transform the Bay into a functional waterway tied to transport terminals.

Early USGS maps reveal the cartographic care to the sinuous paths of water running through wetland marshes on the edge of the Southern Pacific line, near Pt. Isabel and El Cerrito, where the Cerrito Creek enters the bay, in many other smaller streams that sculpt the ecotone of the bayside shore.

Can we try to recuperate these strategies of mapping a complex continuity of shoreline less as a fixed line? The interest in adding landfill to expand the shore over these wetlands would have been a huge reshaping of shoreline that imagined the line as able to be crisp, and cut across the very habitat that the National Park would recreate as habitat and open space, but which twas built out in the mid-century as a a linear shore for more railroad line, as is revealed in the above superimposition of two USGS maps.

Perhaps the most authoritative and influential assessment of filling the Bay was the reaction to the project that the Civil Engineer’s map provided after it was diffused in the local press, and readily extrapolated by East Bay readers. If the logic of reclaiming the tidal zone of much of the South Bay and Marin had developed in the post-war period, filling almost nine hundred acres at the hope of housing over 10,000, had led to the Marin Conservation League after it was proposed in 1956, by raising funds to buy back the tidelands, with help from Marin County and the California Highway Department, and Belvedere, the bayshore had less clear alliances of mutual support and advantage to depend on, but redirected opinion through a very successful map to envision the almost dystopian consequences of transforming the lung-like bay into a shipping terminal the would expand the postwar growth of the old Kaiser Shipyards–but treat the shoreline as a corridor for shipping lanes.

Future Development of the San Francisco Bay Area 1960-2020″
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. © Corps of Engineers

As we try to recuperate the mapping strategies to show the relation of by to water, we might revisit the reworking of the shoreline and its mapping in the local imagination, because the remapping of shores crystallized one of the most important early ecological movements of land preservation.

While the image of the proposed project for narrowing the San Francisco Bay with landfill has been long forgotten, it marked a striking rhetorical redeployment of an engineering plan to stir up public opposition to the narrowing of the harbor with bay fill that John Weber had enthusiastically advocated since the late 1950s into a movement protecting the open waters as a unique open environmental space.  The transformation of a harbor that had been designed by the predominantly commercial mandates of a harbor was transformed into an ideal the aesthetic protection of open waters through the unexpected power of how the image of a lost landscape was evoked by the proposed augmentation of landfill additions that would allow the expansion of San Francisco and Berkeley as cities that could be traversed by cars; if Weber believed that the project he long championed would correct the “geographic mistake” by which the bay fragmented a master-plan for the region, seeking to shrink saltwater influx that had interrupted the expansion of a metropolis that would link Oakland and San Francisco. Reber may have compensated for his lack of formal education by his adherence to maps in his persistent promoting and continued evangelism of his vision of urban modernization of the Bay, relying on the plan as a theatrical device to accommodate the “geographic mistake” by the expansion of paved areas, locks, roads, and viaducts Robert Moses-style.


Reber gestures to the proposed area to be filled in San Francisco Bay

But the ultimate rejection of his plan came as the very image that proposed the effects of bay fill-reduced open waters was re-presented to invite viewers to consider the definitively changed relation to place that such a massive public works construction would create.  For the map, reprinted beneath the three words “Bay or River?,” linked text and image to trigger resistance to the new relation to space that the disappearance of the Bay’s open waters  would have implied.  It prompted resistance to crystallize against the proposed public works projects to add bay fill to replace the saltwater active harbor with that would promote the expansion of urban spread and forever change the lived setting of the region.  The addition of a simple interrogative invited viewers to imagine the landscape that they desired, “Bay or River?” not only attracted more immediate attention than any of REber’s maps but mobilized opposition to the effects of encroachment with the force of a public polemic of preserving an aesthetic–rather than only commercial–landscape.

At the same time as growing public awareness was directed to the mitigation of water pollution as discharging raw sewage and pollution into harbors and rivers diminished as a common practice with passage of the first water quality laws that led to the 1960 Clean Water Act, and five years later created the Land and Water Conservation Fund for recreational spaces.  But the resistance to Reber’s plans for the closing of the open waters of the Sacramento Delta led to a collective topophilic rendering to the preservation of wetlands and estuary that prevented the impending additional of landfill to contract the San Francisco Bay that would have erased the estuary and bay alike, so resonant to lead the  Save the Bay grassroots citizens’ movement to preserve and protect its open waters against the constriction of the Delta and estuary, and erasure of open spaces of wetlands.

Bay or Rivewr

The legend transformed a plan into a polemic: the legend made the map powerfully intersect with readers’s mental geographies; by inviting viewers to map which of two futures they wanted against their experience, the image became a lodestone for preserving the open space of the bay, as well as a powerful icon of regional topohilia and an emblem of resistance to the over-engineered landscape that we identify with the proposed shrinkage of the Bay to a canal whose space would have been dominated by barriers and ship locks.

3. The more complex relation of shoreline, wetlands, and creeks that feed the bay, so typical of the South Bay as well, and some of the most important sources of sediment delivery into the Bay–

–and the many wetlands of the South Bay that were filled in during the postwar period from the 1940s, shown below in yellow, and the early areas of wetlands that were filled in or leveed 1900-1940, shown in purple, reducing some of the tidal marshes that were major areas of sediment accumulation and rich coastal wetlands.

Can we find a model of greater painstaking attention to the delineation of coastal areas that foregrounded now lost ecotones in older USGS maps that trace the definition of creeks and tidal marshes in lost historic wetlands later redefined and often obscured form maps by development and property claims? The historical tidal marshes around the Bay Area, from Albany and Richmond to Oakland, San Francisco, and Redwood City and Palo Alto, much as in Los Angeles or Green Bay, WI and New York survive in historical maps of wetlands, if they are now largely overwritten by property claims in urbanized areas by redrawing a definition of land and sea.

Historic Wetlands in USGS TopoMap, Green Bay WI (1954)
Los Angeles Creeks and Railroad Lines near Rattlesnake Island, 1896 USGS Historical TopoMap
Cordilleris Creek and Redwood City/MapCompare of USGS maps of salt flats, 1899 and 1960

But the resistance and redefinition of the bay waters in Berkeley and the East Bay offered a counter-mapping of the shorelines that resisted the addition of landfill and set a stage for environmental preservation of shoreline habitat often lost to land reclamation projects.

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March 4, 2013 · 11:02 am