The Lighthouse Visitor Center is now only open Fridays through Mondays. The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center will be closed through late December 2013.
2013 Harbor Seal Pupping Season Closures
From March 1 through June 30, the park implements closures of certain Tomales Bay beaches and Drakes Estero to water-based recreation to protect harbor seals during the pupping season. Please avoid disturbing seals to ensure a successful pupping season.
Climate Change: Multimedia Presentations
On this page you will find a number of The Natural Laboratory multimedia presentations that discuss some of the impacts of climate change and what Point Reyes National Seashore is doing to reduce its carbon footprint.
The Natural Laboratory Podcast Script: Declining fog in coastal California?
[Introduction] This is the Natural Laboratory, a podcast exploring science for Bay Area National Parks. I’m Cassandra Brooks [intro music]
[Interview with Mike Vasey] Cassandra Brooks: Can you tell me where we are right now? Mike Vasey: Point Reyes peninsula, which is really one of the fog capitals of the universe. And looking out over Point Reyes Headland, and Drakes Bay, and the Pacific Ocean, and it's a fantastic scene. Along the coast it's particularly exciting; you have so many different unique species that occur. CB: That's Mike Vasey, a lecturer at San Francisco State University and PhD student at UC Santa Cruz who studies plants on the California coast. The rich, lush environment of Point Reyes--and really all of coastal California--heavily depends on the fog. During rainless summers, this fog--which can account for 1/3 of the ecosystem's water input--is critical to the persistence of the local plants and ecosystem. CB: Earlier you were explaining to me where fog originates from. Can you tell that story to me now? MV: Well, let me start here on the coast. We have upwelling of really cold water--very rich, nutrient rich--right off the immediate coast. Then winds that are warmer, that have a lot of moisture, come sweeping in off the Pacific, and when they hit that upwelling cold water, they condense into fog. And the third big factor is that you have these hot air masses that are moving out towards the ocean at high elevation, and as they move out towards the pacific, they kind of depress down and cause an inversion of that condensation, that cloud layer, so it becomes this so called marine layer. And this occurs late spring through the summer.
[Interview with Todd Dawson] CB: But recent studies have indicated that the fog is declining from the California coast. I went to meet with Todd Dawson, a professor at UC Berkeley who has studied California fog for decades. In a recent study with former graduate student and postdoc Jim Johnstone, Dawson found some troubling trends. Todd Dawson: Jim and I basically discovered that if we looked over the last 50 to 60 years, we started to see that not only temperatures along the coast were warming up, but fog was actually declining. And when we started to really look at that even over longer time frames, we began to see really over the last century, fog has been declining and it's declined by about 30 percent in about 100 years here in coastal California. CB: Are you able to see any impact on the environment yet from this? Or will it take longer to see a shift? TD: We are beginning to see some signs of that change in the fog-water inputs may be having some impacts in the southern parts of, say, the redwood range. So you go down to southern Big Sur, right at the very southern end of where the coast redwood lives, and we begin to see now that the summers are a lot drier, soils dry out, they are drier for a longer period of time. CB: And it means that perhaps the redwood range will shift north, or will just decrease, or might go away all together? TD: Some of the predictions that have been recently released, and some of this work has been done by a woman named Healy Hamilton, who has been really interested in modeling climatic envelopes of plants. And she is focused specifically on the coast redwood. And she said just what you've said, is that the climatic envelope that's going to favor the coast redwood is going to creep its way north into Oregon and also it’s going to creep its way west. And of course that is impossible because as we go west we hit the Pacific Ocean. So what that really means is that the envelope is getting narrower, it's moving north, and at the southern end of the range, it is going to get drier and hotter, and we are probably going to be losing trees there eventually. Whether that happens in the next 20 years or the next 50 years, we can’t really say yet. CB: What can people do? What can the national parks do, or the state parks do? TD: There are a couple of strategies that we've been talking with the parks about. Of course there's always playing a very active role. We can plant trees, and we can plant trees into areas that may be much more favorable--little microclimatic areas--little niches that we know could be very favorable to healthy redwood growth. Those are obviously going to be wetter, cooler areas because the redwoods really love those. We could also try to--in a sort of entire geographical context--go and do an analysis of where are those climatic niches that might be very favorable for future recruitment and healthy growth for mature trees, and make sure those areas are set aside. CB: A few of my friends that I mentioned to that I was doing this story on how fog is declining in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz area, they said, "No way! I see just as much fog; there is more fog!" TD: You have to take the normal oscillation along with the long tern trends to really understand how something like fog decline or temperature increases really play out. In our human experience, we kind of remember one year at a time, and I think sometimes that is why sometimes people say, "Hey wait a minute it was a really foggy year last year!" And you go, "You know, you're right. It was." But in the long term picture it's actually been on the decline. CB: With the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center, I'm Cassandra Brooks
Cassandra Brooks interviews Ivano Aiello, a geological oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, about how we burn ancient life to power our civilization and some of the issues that result from fossil fuel pollution.
Credit / Author:
Cassandra Brooks/Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center
The Natural Laboratory Podcast Script: Burning Ancient Life: The Geology of an Oil Reserve
[Introduction] This is the Natural Laboratory, a podcast exploring science for Bay Area National Parks. I’m Cassandra Brooks. [intro music] Phytoplankton form the base of the ocean’s food chains transferring energy from the sun to sustain the global ocean. These tiny floating plants account for half of the photosynthetic activity on Earth. They also generate the majority of our fossil fuels.
[Interview with Ivano Aiello] Ivano Aiello: Ninety-five percent of oil is marine algae, marine plankton. Cassandra Brooks: Ninety-five percent? IA: Yeah. I mean the vast majority of oil comes from marine plankton. CB: That’s Ivano Aiello, a geological oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Monterey Bay, California. According to Ivano, plankton populations bloom, then die and drift to the seafloor. Slowly, they accumulate, getting compressed and buried under sediments, and so long as they are in low oxygen conditions, the plankton will be preserved. And how long of a time period are we talking about here for all of this to happen? IA: Millions, to hundreds of millions of years, it takes millions of years for oil to form. CB: So even though probably right now there is new oil being formed all the time… IA: We’ll have to wait millions to hundreds of millions of years. The scale of things we are talking about is insane. Our rate of consumption is orders of magnitude faster than anything that has to do with the actual formation of oil. We are exploiting something that moves so slowly, there is no way that it can be regenerated anytime soon. But that’s what we use in our cars something that formed 400 million years ago. So it would be really nice to have this at the gas station so people will say, wait a second, I’m burning this gas in the next two hours and it took 200 million years to form?! CB: And it isn’t even just gas for our cars; our entire western lives depend on petroleum products. Our roads are covered in tar. Petroleum based plastics are all around us—in our phones, computers, cameras, toys, clothes, toothbrushes, and cosmetic bottles. And almost everything we buy at the grocery store is covered in plastic. And while we once found reserves of oil so rich and abundant they came bubbling out of the ground, we now have to probe ever deeper and farther. At this point, we have to use a great deal of oil to drill for more oil. IA: So that’s the problem. When we were working on land mostly, you could poke the ground and oil comes out, that was it. It cost one gallon of oil to drill 100 gallons of oil. Now we are talking about one gallon of oil to drill I don’t know, 10 gallons of oil or 20, so it’s becoming more and more expensive. That’s the problem and when you push the technology offshore, not only do you increase the risks, but also it’s very expensive. An offshore oil rig is a really expensive thing to run. But our thirst for oil is so much, that we are really like drug addicts right now, we are looking for a little drop somewhere. IA: So I gave a lecture after the oil spill… CB: You did? IA: Yeah, on the Deepwater Horizon, so that’s why it was actually neat you asked me to talk to you, because I was reading more about offshore drilling. This is a map from 2006. There are 3,858 oil and gas platform only in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s like covered. CB: No way. IA: Yes, way. I mean look at that. They are just next to each other. So think about when you have a hurricane coming through this thing. It’s insane. I don’t know…Our society is a fossil fuel based society. Our civilization in the last several hundreds years since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been completely dependent on fossil fuels. But that’s why we’ve had this amazing increase in technology in the last few hundred years and also life quality. Unfortunately, it allows us to travel, allows us to make clothing and containers, everything, everything. But it’s a limited resource.
[Conclusion] Here in 2011, we are at a crossroads; those tiny plankton sinking and compressing over millions of years can’t support our appetite for energy. As humans, we have incredible ingenuity, which is why we’ve been so efficient at using up our oil reserves. As we look to the future, perhaps it’s time to apply that same ingenuity to cutting energy consumption and employing alternative energies, ones that don’t depend on ancient ocean plants. With the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center, I’m Cassandra Brooks.
More than a hundred thousand marine species build their bodies using calcium carbonate. This incredible diversity of life evolved over millions of years, as animals figured out ways to pull calcium and carbonate ions from the water to build shells and skeletons. But all of this is changing. Our addiction to fossil fuels and the billions of tons of carbon dioxide we're pumping into the atmosphere each year may be undoing millions of years of evolution in a geological blink of time.
Credit / Author:
Cassandra Brooks/Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center
The Natural Laboratory Podcast Script: Ocean Acidification: Where will all the seashells go?
Introduction This is the Natural Laboratory, a podcast exploring science for Bay Area National Parks. I'm Cassandra Brooks. More than a hundred thousand marine species build their bodies using calcium carbonate, including snails, oysters, sea stars, coral, and plenty of planktonic animals. This incredible diversity of life evolved over millions of years, as animals figured out ways to pull calcium and carbonate ions from the water to build shells and skeletons so robust that they remain intact long after the animals perish. But all of this is changing. Our addiction to fossil fuels and the billions of tons of carbon dioxide [CO2] we're pumping into the atmosphere each year may be undoing millions of years of evolution in a geological blink of time.
Ann Russell Interview Ann Russell: Geochemists and oceanographers have known for a long time that when CO2 dissolves in water, it forms an acid. Cassandra Brooks: That's Ann Russell, an ocean geochemist at the University of California, Davis who studies ocean acidification in Tomales Bay, just east of Point Reyes National Seashore. I spent a day in the field with her to learn more [photo of Ann from field]. Almost one third of global carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, says Ann. This excess CO2 reacts with seawater, freeing hydrogen ions, which lowers the pH and makes the water more acidic. Living in more acidic waters is bad enough for shell building animals, but CO2 adds another problem. Animals need both calcium and carbonate to build their skeletons. But the extra hydrogen ions in the high CO2 water bind carbonate, reducing the amount available for animals to build their shells. So what might this mean for the future of calcifying organisms?? [Music and video of sand dollar dissolving] AR: Just to bring in some of the geological perspective on this—18,000 years ago during the last glacial maximum, atmospheric CO2 was 200, 200 parts per million then it rose at the end of the glacial period. CB: But it only rose to 280 ppm, Ann says, and the increase happened over an 8,000 year period. Since the industrial revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide has now spiked to more than 390 parts per million. That's an increase of 110 ppm in only 250 years. AR: So they're faced with much more rapid change than has ever been seen in the geologic record, ever. We don't have a geologic analogue for the rate of change going on right now.
Terry Swyer Interview CB: Given how fast the ocean's chemistry is changing, it's no surprise that we're beginning to see widespread effects in many calcifying animals, including those we like to eat. Oyster hatcheries in the Pacific c Northwest have recently experienced massive larval die off s. When scientists measured local seawater, they found that during certain times of the year, the waters were corrosive enough to be the culprit. Terry Sawyer: It's fairly insidious, as far as the effects, if you're talking about degradation of shell because of the lack of ability to bind the calcium carbonate, which is what our bivalves use to build their homes. CB: That's Terry Sawyer, one of the owners of Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, California. Terry said that young oysters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Their thin shells dissolve much faster and they struggle to make their transition from planktonic larvae to settling out on the seafloor. In general, more acidic waters simply stress the animals out. TS: So what are we seeing, you ask. Let's say in the past five, let's go even ten years, we're seeing disease, a lot of disease issues. Why are they becoming more susceptible to disease? Maybe there's an introduction of that disease from another shellfi sh growing regions, maybe there is transport going on, maybe there is stress, that's where we go into the OA. CB: OA or ocean acidification. Hatcheries and oyster growers are actively discussing mitigation strategies, like only pumping in seawater during low CO2 periods or installing seawater treatment systems.
Andrew Dickson Interview CB: These strategies might work in the short term, but would prove ever more difficult as atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise. And they're sure to continue rising—even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, the oceans won't quickly return to pre-industrial levels. Andrew Dickson: That's one of the biggest concerns—if we add CO2 to the oceans and then we just stopped how long would it take. CB: That's Andrew Dickson, a chemical oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. AD: Well one picture is that it would keep going up a little bit, because the CO2 in the atmosphere has not all yet dissolved in the ocean. But after awhile it would start coming down. Unfortunately, after awhile is tens of thousands of years. We're putting it in over a few hundred years and if we leave it to purely natural processes of our planet to take us back to where it would, I don't like to use the word, perhaps “prefer” to be, the general chemistry, it's going to take tens of thousands of years. CB: Do you have any visions in your mind of what the future ocean''s going to look like in light of these changes? [pause] Visions, nightmares, dreams…? AD: Visions, nightmares, dreams, I don't know. Clearly it's going to change the possibility for a variety of calcium carbonate organisms in certain environments. The coral reefs—if they grow more slowly, they are always being hit by waves and broken up. So you have to keep growing back. If it's harder for them to grow then they may get to the point they are not growing fast enough to stay the same and they start shrinking. And the coral is a wonderful place, the reason it looks so beautiful with all the fishes and everything is that it provides so much protection for all these different species. It's a whole ecosystem that's kept there in part just because there is this reef. CB: We've touched on some worse case scenarios of animals dissolving, what's the best-case scenario of what we could expect in the future? AD: Probably the best thing would be a combination of things happening at once. We could reduce how much CO2 we're putting in the atmosphere so that we never went to the stage to where it's guaranteed to be bad. Just to where it might not be good. We might be lucky, there could be organisms that have it within their genetic capacity, the ability to adapt to the changed chemistry. That's plausible. Is it likely? We don't know, we really don't know. In addition, there might be some local things we can do that help. For instance we were talking here about helping hatcheries for oyster larvae. Where a very simple dealing with it, don't take high CO2 seawater, that would work. That would work locally, you could almost imagine making changes on a larger scale, over a few square miles even, but I can't imagine making those changes on the whole of the ocean. So it would be a matter of deciding that there were some parts that were more sensitive or more valuable and taking active action to change things.
Conclusion It's hard to imagine that humans are burning so much fossil fuel that we've altered our atmosphere, and now our oceans, faster than has ever happened in the history of the Earth. And it's easy to feel hopeless. But I walked away my conversations feeling that our fate and the fate of our oceans were not yet sealed. We live in an ever-connected world, which affords incredible power to educate and be educated. We have the power to learn about the world around us and to listen to the scientists who are continuously deciphering our impact on it. We have the power to teach our children, to inspire change in our communities, and to support policies that are in favor of a healthy planet. We have the power to make a choice every day about how we live our lives. With the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center, I'm Cassandra Brooks.