UCSC researcher Borja Reguero; Sherry Flumerfelt, of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust; Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band; and Katherine Seto, UC Santa Cruz assistant professor of environmental studies.

Talking climate change in Santa Cruz wouldn’t be complete without some focus on how it will affect waves

Borja Reguero, a UCSC associate researcher who has studied the impact of the warming climate on wave energy, will be one of several speakers at the Confronting Climate Change Conference hosted by UC Santa Cruz starting Thursday. It will focus on climate change impacts on the central coast and highlight the work of local activists, artists and researchers like Reguero.

The Santa Cruz area is projected to see increases of up to 10% in wave energy before the end of the century, according to a 2019 study by leading author and UCSC researcher, Borja Reguero.

And while he hasn’t had a chance to surf his favorite break at Pleasure Point in more than two years — having a baby and enduring a pandemic complicated his schedule — Reguero’s mind is still focused on the forces behind those waves and how they’re rapidly changing.

He and several other researchers are looking at how the direction of the waves will change over the next decades due to the warming climate. And how that could impact erosion on the coastline.

Reguero is just one local scientist trying to understand climate change’s impact on coastal communities while trying to help those communities implement mitigation strategies.

Originally from Santander, a city on the north coast of Spain, Reguero grew up around pristine beaches, pearly white palaces and green hillsides. But since arriving in Santa Cruz as a postdoctoral student in 2013, he’s felt a pull to stay in the area recognized for its world-renowned waves and conservation efforts.

Studying wave energy is just one aspect of Reguero’s work. He’s also an assistant adjunct professor in the Coastal Science and Policy Program at UCSC. As a co-instructor for a graduate course in the program, he advises students who help the city of Santa Cruz with its climate adaptation plans.

He’ll be part of a lecture series on Thursday launching UCSC’s eight annual Confronting Climate Change Conference at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. The conference will focus on the impacts of climate change on Santa Cruz County in three days of free events from April 21-23.

After the panel, the conference will feature a new art exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History on Friday and an Earth Day celebration at the new Climate Action Market on Saturday at the marine center.

In addition to Reguero, speakers on Thursday include Sherry Flumerfelt, of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust; Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band; Katherine Seto, UC Santa Cruz assistant professor of environmental studies and and Sikina Jinnah, UC Santa Cruz associate professor of environmental studies.

We spoke to Reguero in advance of Thursday’s event. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Lookout: Can you tell us about some of the findings from your research on wave energy and climate change?

Borja Reguero: So part of my work focuses on ocean waves and how climate change is affecting those. And what we found is that there are very large changes depending on different sites across the state. Places in Southern California will see decreases in wave energy. There are other places that will see large increases up to 20-30%. Based on the results that we have, the Santa Cruz area will see increases of up to 10%. So that’s substantial in terms of energy. But that doesn’t mean specifically that waves have to be smaller or bigger, but it means that the amount of wave energy that will be reaching the shoreline over an average year will be decreasing or increasing.

Confronting Climate Change Conference

The lineup at UCSC

  • Thursday: Panel discussion at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center: “Responding to the impacts of climate change in Santa Cruz County.” Location: La Feliz room at Seymour Center, 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz.
  • Friday: New art exhibition: “Strange Weather Contemporary Art from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation.” Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St, Santa Cruz
  • Saturday: Climate Action Market. Location: Seymour Marine Discovery Center

So before we were just thinking that, you know, there were like the changes were negligible, based on the open ocean, but what we see is that climate change is not affecting all the storms equally. And the effect of their propagation and other coastal features is filtering that energy in such a way that some of the areas in Southern California will see decreases, and other parts of the state will see large increases. And we’re talking about 20% changes in energies that are substantial in terms of sediment transport, and the potential for flooding.

So, you can look at the past —what are the typical effects we have when we have El Niño years? — and then you can see what it means for the future regular climate. The main conditions will be looking a little bit more like El Niño years. If you translate that in terms of impacts, that’s pretty bad news, because we know what typical effects are in terms of changes in the oceanographic forcing, but also erosion and flooding effects.

Lookout: How have you been involved in local climate change efforts?

Reguero: So with the Coastal Science and Policy Program, the students I teach work with the city of Santa Cruz in a number of initiatives every year. The course is called “Adaptation and Resilience Planning.” We are involved in the local coastal adaptation plan and the resilience and the growth plan. We directly work with the city in different assessments, but every year we’re trying to support them in the implementation of the adaptation plan. Essentially, the plan outlines a number of adaptation options.

And they specify that if there are certain thresholds that get reached, the students look at what monitoring techniques the city will deploy. So we can measure those thresholds and identify a specific response. So let’s imagine that it is beach erosion. So we need to deploy systems that will be tracking shoreline position, you will be implementing certain actions and it could be restoring the beach, it could be coastal protection work or something different. So the students go in developing a specific plan to see what technologies we could use to monitor or those both your physical and social triggers.

Lookout: What has been your favorite research project?

Reguero: We did a recent analysis on coral reefs that has been included in new policy proposals in Hawaii and Guam to protect those coral reefs that are providing the highest protection to people and assets. We identified that approximately 300 kilometers of coral reefs provide at least $1 million per year in flood protection. Citing our science, in Hawaii and Guam, they proposed new policies to ensure and manage those natural ecosystems for their flood protection benefits.

So this is quite a game changer in the sense that we can recognize the socioeconomic value that these natural ecosystems, natural structures, and infrastructure systems have, because they essentially function as natural breakwaters. We are able to manage them and mobilize policy incentives, but also funding into maintaining those for costs or production benefits they are providing.