Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the North-central California Coast and Ocean

From the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this vulnerability assessment is a science-based effort to identify how and why focal resources - including habitats, species, and ecosystem services - across the North-central California coast and ocean region are likely to be affected by future climate conditions.

This report is the first step in a process to enable marine resource managers to respond to, plan, and manage for the impacts of climate change to the North-central California coast and ocean region. The report utilizes expert-driven, scientifically sound assessments to provide climate-smart adaptation strategies. This can help managers understand why a given resource may or may not be vulnerable to a changing climate, enabling a more appropriate and effective management response.

Climate change vulnerability of 44 focal resources, including eight habitats, populations of 31 species, and five ecosystem services was assessed by considering exposure and sensitivity to climate changes and non-climate stressors and adaptive capacity.

The 44 focal resources were identified and assessed by representatives from federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions. Coastal habitats in the study region, including beaches and dunes, estuaries, and the rocky intertidal, along with associated species and ecosystem services, were identified through this assessment as being most vulnerable, and will likely be prioritized for future management action.

For example, a chosen focal species, such as the Olympia Oyster, is described in the report for its particular sensitivities to climate change including salinity, and storm related flooding. The species (or habitat) is then ranked for Sensitivity, Exposure, Adaptive Capacity, and Vulnerability to selected climate impacts. The resource’s adaptive capacity is analyzed on a scale from 1-5 based on geographic distribution, population status, and dispersal ability. The Olympia Oyster was found to have high exposure to these climate impacts, with only a moderate level of adaptive capacity. 

Each resources’ unique situation is described in detail along with management potential and adaptive strategies. In the Olympia Oyster example, the report recommends that: “Water management with regard to watershed runoff and river outflows could ameliorate future low salinity events and low dissolved oxygen events, control of non-native predators would help to modify interactions with air temperatures (allowing occupancy of lower tidal zones), and restoration of populations would likely increase recruitment and population size, enhancing the oyster’s resiliency to climate change.”

The report’s results section provides descriptive figures and tables, discusses assessment results, and is followed by the individual assessments for each focal resource, incorporating the scores received during the vulnerability assessment workshop with information from the scientific literature.


The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and a diverse set of partners completed this vulnerability assessment as part of the North-central California Coast and Ocean Climate-Smart Adaptation Project with support from the CA LCC.




Publication Date: May 2015

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Sara Hutto
  • S.V Hutto
  • K.D. Higgason
  • J.M. Kershner
  • W.A. Reynier
  • D.S. Gregg

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment

States Affected:

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