# Putting the life back in science fiction

California in the High Altithermal, Part 3: natural Landscapes

Part 1 of this series can be found here.  Part 2 can be found here.

For Part 3, I want to start with two numbers: 2,644,443 and 200,000-300,000.  The first is what I predict, based on the formula in Hot Earth Dreams, would be California state population in 2100 CE, and I’ll get to how I calculated that in a second.  The second is the estimate of how many Indians lived in California before European contact.  The first I calculated by finding out California’s current population (rounded up to 39,000,000), it’s current annual growth rate (0.9%), and plugged the numbers into a compound interest equation and ran it out to 2050 (52,888,867.  Please check my math).  Then I applied the 95% dieoff from civilization collapsing between 2050 and 2100, and came up with a population of 2,644,443.  The thing to notice is that this number is still ten times higher than what the state supported before Europeans came along.  It’s also almost twice as high as the state population in 1900 (1,485,053), which suggests to me, sadly, that the scenario of a 95% population crash is probably too optimistic for California.

Why care about the precontact numbers?  After all, California Indians were all hunters and gatherers.  There was no food agriculture outside the Colorado River area (although many grew a tobacco species.  Go figure).  However, anthropologists consistently noted that the population density of California Indians was among the highest in North America north of Mexico, at least at Contact.   California has been romanticized by many anthropologists as a Precontact Paradise, and so it’s worth looking at how many people the land could support under a sustainable non-agricultural, pre-climate change, regime.  That number is almost certainly under one million people within the state.  Oddly, this was a greater density than many other places achieved with agriculture, and we need to remember that.

How did the California Indians manage to have relatively dense populations without agriculture?  The answer has to do in part with oaks, because when the acorn crop was good, an Indian family could gather a year’s worth of carbs with about three weeks of work.  You want to farm under those circumstances?  Still, the key point is “when the acorn crop was good,” because that didn’t happen every year.  California Indians ate just about anything that was edible, including things like yellow jacket larvae and the larvae of brine flies at Mono Lake.  The problem with California is that, while the climate is delightfully warm and dry (aka drought-stricken) for most of the year, rainfall is extremely unpredictable.  In southern California, annual rainfall totals depend entirely on whether a few big storms hit or miss us. This is why I refer to the idea of Precontact Paradise as romantic.  When California’s good, it’s very very good.  When it’s bad, it’s horrid. And it’s bad pretty regularly, but seldom everywhere at once.

The Indians were undoubtedly exposed to agriculture (they regularly traded and occasionally settled with the agricultural tribes along the Colorado) and certainly they knew a lot about tending plants (Amazon link),  but they didn’t go for agriculture because California is too unpredictable to bet your life on the rain in most places.  It didn’t help them that they didn’t have access to Mediterranean crops that could hack the California climate, but California’s climate is a lot less predictable than the Mediterranean, and most California agriculture relies on irrigation rather than rainfall.

Going forward into the High Altithermal, one thing that won’t change is climatic unpredictability, even if it gets wetter and more tropical in northern California.  Southern California will become even more chaotic, as storms stop arriving only in winter and show up randomly all year around.

I also think that California’s human population will drop below one million in the High Altithermal.  Human manipulation of landscapes, with the exception of fire-starting, will correspondingly diminish, and many places will either rewild or feralize, depending on how you see it.

With that horribly extensive preliminary, let’s get to relandscaping California for the next 1500 years.

From 2100-2300, the average temperature will increase about 1°C  every 40 years or so, and this strongly implies a lot of change.  Plants seeds that require cold to germinate will disappear from areas that no longer get frost.  Hot, La Niña-fired droughts will kill many trees.  Migrating plants will occasionally get lucky with local climate and rainfall and sprout in huge numbers, resulting in thickets of young plants, especially around watercourses.  Giant trees will increasingly become burned snags and fallen logs, and annual grasses and (hopefully) some wildflowers will spread, especially in the southern half of the state.  Fires will be common, especially where drought, disease, or pests have killed large numbers of plants.  Furthermore, many rivers will run dry in the summer and sometimes all year, as dams stop them, and downstream creeks run dry.  Worse, many ancient springs will be long dry, because they’re currently being drained by wells, and they won’t be refilled (if at all) for many decades to millennia. Southern California in the 22nd Century will be a dry place.

In northern California, summer rainstorms will become increasingly common, floods will be more common, and tropical plants (like guava) will escape gardens and take to the hills, as they have in Hawai’i.  I suspect that the pattern we’re seeing now, where El Niño rains pound northern California, will become the norm (due to the edge of the Hadley cell moving north into southern California and forcing whatever remains of the Jet Stream north as well), so northern California will become wet tropical in El Niño years, dry tropical in La Niña years.  Note that the weather becomes just as unpredictable as  in southern California, but it will be predictably wetter.

Starting around 2150 (very approximately), the big dams will start failing, and the rivers will rewild themselves.  One big effect of this will be that the Tulare Lake Basin (Tulare Lake and the lakes and sloughs that fed into and out of it) will refill in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and (hopefully) Owens Lake will refill in Owens Valley (this might happen even earlier).  Both were dried out by diversion, to agriculture and Los Angeles respectively, over a century ago.  With the diversions gone, these lakes should refill, as should rivers from the Colorado to the Klamath.

The floods from these dam failures will be catastrophic for those caught downstream at the wrong time, and that’s a problem for humans, because the best places to live will be where there’s dependable water–along rivers and around lakes.  But humans are in the next blog entry.

After 2300, the temperature stabilize at +8°C, then it will very gradually decrease about two degrees over the next 1300 years, forcing the desert south a few hundred miles from wherever it got to in 2300.  However, the melting East Antarctic Ice sheet will force sea level up to +65 meters above today, flooding (among other places) the Central Valley.  The way this will play out is a gradual inland spread, with saltwater poisoning the soil ahead of the advancing ocean, storm waves destroying the dying vegetation, and mudflats forming where the rivers, chewing through centuries of dam sediments, dump them in the newly formed bay.  Whether this bay is edged by salt marshes or mangrove swamps depends largely on whether people help mangroves migrate to California or not (currently they’re treated as weeds and removed when found).  Both vegetation types are great sea-life nurseries, but if I understand correctly, mangroves support more species.

Moving away from the ocean, I almost hate to say it, but my model for future vegetation in northern California is the Hawaiian islands.  In general, the lowland forests there are all imported plants, a minority brought by the Polynesians, a majority brought by the Haoles and by accident.  This includes things like guava, figs, pepper trees, eucalyptus (argh!) and other tropical plants.  Many of these now grow in California gardens.  I’ve got a bougainvillea, for example, and they grow wild in Hawai’i.  Some California native plants (I’m thinking here of things like mesquites) will adapt, but the plants that do so well in the current Mediterranean climate will probably survive, if at all, on the dry sides of the high Sierras.

The problem with this model is that most people have been conditioned to think of Hawai’i as a paradise, so they think this is a good thing.  It is, sort of (it beats a Mad Max moonscape), but it’s also got a lot of issues.  Unfortunately, the non-native forests of Hawai’i don’t seem to be studied with the same intensity that biologists have focused on the remnant native species, so it’s harder to talk about their ecosystem functions or even composition.  Also, there aren’t any hunter-gatherers in Hawai’i, so we don’t have a model for how humans can exploit such landscapes to live year-round.  Additionally, Northern California will probably experience more severe droughts than the Hawaiian Islands do now, so I’m not sure how good this comparison really is.

Southern California will become more like modern Baja and the Sonoran desert.  More native species will survive.  Plants that currently live inland and in the deserts will move towards the coast, while a lot of coastal species will go extinct, although we can’t yet guess which ones will survive and which will not.  Oddly, some current weeds (like sahara mustard) will probably become rare in the future, simply because the droughts will get longer and deeper,.  Many California plants already have a wide variety of mechanisms for dealing with this kind of chaos.  Sahara mustard apparently can’t hack it.

As for animal species, many smaller birds and mammals will survive. This will especially include widespread generalists like coyotes, raccoons, crows, ravens, and pigeons.  It’s harder to say whether deer, black bears, and mountain lions will survive.   I suspect there’s going to be a lot of poaching in the late 21st Century, as people try to get food however they can.  Deer especially were hammered by hunters in the 19th Century, and that may well happen again.  Large mammals I expect to survive include feral cattle, feral horses (and donkeys), feral goats, feral pigs, and feral turkeys.  The last two are currently spreading through California, and the others have been persistent features in the west for centuries. Indeed, in the Mission period, feral bulls were regarded as more dangerous than grizzly bears.  Humans will keep these domesticated animals, and some will get loose, go feral, and survive.  For all we know, there might be feral camels roaming the deserts and feral llamas in the mountains.  They’re on ranches now, and if people breed camels to help them survive in the desert, some are bound to get loose.

What did I miss?

Really enjoy your posts! The questions below are out of curiosity.

Is the argh! for eucalyptus because of its habit of killing off local competition? No mention of bullrushes … is this plant not found in California or another potential runaway problem plant?

Dams – once they fall apart …. what is the likely biochemical impact on soil from the cement (alkalinity)? How much worse/better is your projection based on this potential soil contamination?

Ocean moving inland … which marine plants and animals are most likely to move into the California interior? Am thinking that some land animals might be able to live off whatever the waters bring to them.

Saw a David Attenborough doc recently re: Great Barrier Reef. Turtle eggs if covered in water do not develop, they just rot. Any species in California at risk for the same reason?

Eucs (and in California, that’s mostly E. globulus, the blue bum) tend to suck out all the local ground water, drop branches (they’re brittle), appear to poison the surrounding soil, and burn like torches in brush fires. Otherwise, they’re gorgeous trees. Conversely, bulrushes are found in California. Here they’re called tules, and Tulare lake was full of them. There are a bunch of non-native reedy things: bulrushes, giant reeds, and the like, and they are problems. Still, cattails and tules are good plants. I don’t know what the temperature tolerances are for California species, but I do hope they survive.

As for dam chemistry, erosion from the concrete is an issue, erosion from whatever metal is in the dam is an issue, the initially anoxic sediments behind the dam are an issue (they’re likely to choke out a lot of life in any downstream river when the dam gives way), and whatever chemicals (pesticides, for instance) that are in the dam sediments are likely to be an issue). At this point, I have no way of saying what’s going to be a problem when. One thing I will say is that the western US’ biggest hazardous waste landfill, which is about three miles southwest of Kettleman City in the San Joaquin Valley, looks like it will stay above both Tulare Lake and the sea. I’m not sure what will happen with runoff from that dump, though…

As for what oceanic creatures move into that area, I’d bet on jellyfish and squid. Unfortunately, a lot depends on what survives the next century, especially once society starts to break down and people try to get food in any way possible, including hunting, fishing, and trapping. Currently there are elaborate fishing regulations in California waters precisely because so many species have been over-fished in previous decades. While I really can’t blame hungry people for trying to get food however they can, I’m pretty sure California’s collapse will decimate wildlife and sea-life. That’s one reason I’m not talking about waterfowl, because the state also has a history of massively overhunting ducks and geese about a century ago. It would be great if a lot of duck species survived, but a single year of hungry people market hunting would exterminate a lot of them. Same with deer and even turkeys, for that matter.

As for nests getting swamped, anything with air-breathing eggs (birds, reptiles, insects, etc.) is at risk if the nests get swamped. That’s a normal risk for a lot of coastal species.

Comment by Heteromeles

I’m not sure we’re capable of overhunting ducks these days, mainly due to lack of practice. Does anyone have any idea how many people have the knowledge/equipment/background to be successful duck hunters, or how hard it will be to come by the necessary equipment and training? I see hunting as something that gets built up to with a lot of early training and it requires equipment like decoys which might be in short supply, and how good will the supplies of shotgun shells/bullets be at that point in our collapse? Does anyone have any good answers on this?

Comment by Troutwaxer

Just to expand a little, I think the same issues may apply to issues like fishing and other kinds of hunting. Comments?

Comment by Troutwaxer

Well, if I were hunting ducks for the market, I’d buy a couple of rolls of 1″ weld wire and a few other things, make a pen trap in a marsh, bait it with corn or whatever, and kill the ducks as I pulled them out of the trap the next morning (or even just bag them in burlap sacks and deliver them to the market alive). We used to use traps like that when we were banding ducks, and it’s a lot easier than ethically hunting with shotguns. If that sounds too tame, google “punt gun.” That’s what they used to use to commercially hunt waterfowl. With deer, wire snares are a lot easier than shooting them, and so on. The point is that market hunting and gathering isn’t about sustainability or recreation, it’s about feeding hungry people for a profit and damn the ethics. The methods are very different than those used by recreational hunters, and often the take is considerably larger.

Comment by Heteromeles

Got it. Thanks for filling me in.

Comment by Troutwaxer

Without having read the book, I am guessing that your scenario assumes both that agriculture will fail and that humans will retreat, as coastal cities like LA and SF flood.
I’ve already questioned the latter, as I think that CA will spend the money to dyke coastal cities in order to save \$tn’s in real estate and infrastructure, as well as businesses.

Agriculture as currently practiced is clearly not going to survive, even w/o AGW. We’re seeing the impact of draining the aquifers even now with just a few years of drought. However, we are also seeing the emergence of urban farms, vertical farming, etc. While far more expensive than open field ag, the cost of building vertical, A/C greenhouses is going to be a lot cheaper than just abandoning cities because of lack of alternative food sources and rising waters. The productivity of these vertical farms per unit land area is huge, and they can recycle water effectively. With cheap solar and wind energy, I see no reason why automated vertical farms couldn’t become the standard method of food production as conventional ag fails. The question is always political – will inertia as we fight ag interests stall their development, or can we incentivize ag interests to develop these farms in return for retreating from traditional farming. My suspicion is that ag is too conservative to change, vertical farms will be developed by tech companies, and ag will fight to the death to keep going as long as possible until climate forces them to give up in the latter half of the 21st century. Vertical farms are really a means to protect conventional foods. It is possible that more factory based methods will replace food growing, using fast growing cell cultures and food processing to make acceptable food substitutes. Just as wartime England found creative ways to feed itself during WWII, we’ll find creative ways to continue to feed ourselves, even if that means an unpalatable “Soylent Green” scenario.
Bottom line, I see the value of the CA economy being protected by human action to protect its productive assets and develop new technologies to provide the food to support them.
I would hope that any human population crash is not due instead to automation and the ruling oligarchy letting the mass unemployed starve rather than distributing income.

Comment by alexandertolley

Yeah, that’s the old “dam the SF Bay” scenario that was first trotted out in the 1960s. Even assuming it’s technologically feasible (remember it was proposed before they had any clue about earthquakes), it’s got the same failings as any dam in this scenario: without continual maintenance, it fails, and given the tides that normally flow through the Golden Gate, it fails spectacularly. Also note that all the harbor facilities are inside SF Bay, so damming the place kills it as a harbor regardless. It’s real problem is that it only averages 12′ deep, due to sediments washed down during the Gold Rush, so keeping the Bay dredged so that ships can get in is a continual problem.

But actually, no. The real flooding of SF Bay is after 2300, and in my scenario, there’s no fossil fuel at that point to make the concrete you’d need to make the seawalls you’re talking about after that point. The dams have to go in this century or not at all, and no one’s preparing dams or sea walls that are 65 meters high and designed to last 1500 years, because no one knows how to make those. It’s also worth mentioning that the manufacture of one ton of conventional Portland cement creates one ton of greenhouse gas emissions, and massive building does add to climate change. Carbon neutral cement is on the drawing boards, but it’s expensive and only available in small amounts. We don’t have a truly green alternative to portland cement, especially at the scales which we need.

You’ll otherwise have to wait to see what I have to say about cities. The one clue I’d offer is that their future size depends quite a lot on their indigenous water sources.

The other thing to remember is that the curse of the Central Valley isn’t just that it’s future seabeds waiting to happen, it’s that it has been seabed in the past. There’s a lot of salt in that soil and groundwater, and one of the things they need irrigation for in the Valley is to flush that salt away.

As for Central Valley agriculture, what I can say now (based on what I got from onthepublicrecord.org) is that the amount of water surface water in California is now fixed. The feds have signaled that no more water will be diverted from other states to California. Groundwater supplies are still diminishing, but we don’t know how much is left. The likely consequence in the next decade or two is that agricultural water supplies will shrink by something like one-quarter to one-third, fallowing a lot of marginal farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. Since most of this is farmed by oligarchs for export (think almonds), loss of these farms won’t cause starvation. It might cause them to try to build suburbs out there, but without support from the rest of the economy, those are ghost towns waiting to happen. Equally likely, they’ll grow solar panels or wind turbines. We don’t yet know. During the last drought, too many farmers depended on rather saline groundwater, which salted their soil and decreased product. Sooner or later, even those wells will run dry and those fields will go fallow during droughts, probably putting a bunch of farmers out of business (again, unless they grow solar panels). That’s going to reconfigure produce production in the United States, since a lot of the current system is predicated on growing fresh produce in California and shipping it out, or canning it in California and shipping it out. That whole infrastructure will deteriorate, and produce supplies in the US will be chaotic for at least a decade, as new canning plants and distribution routes get worked out to favor distributed produce production around the US. This is where vertical farms, farmer’s markets and the like might come in.

Comment by Heteromeles

Seawalls don’t have to be made of concrete. That is very 20th century, brute force thinking. All that is required is a way to stabilize a heavy material as a structure. After all, even dunes can rise quite high and remain fairly stable against the sea (e.g. Monterery, CA). Innovative seawall construction using other materials is possible, although protecting against many meters may require heroic engineering. Similarly, seawalls don’t preclude locks. We have plenty of experience building those, from freshwater canals to the Panama Canal. While a bit of a bottleneck, there is no reason why inland ports inside a seawall cannot be serviced.
If NY does decide to build a seawall to protect Manhattan, it will be interesting to see what approach they take.

You appear more sanguine about ag in CA than I am. A loss of 1/4-1/3 ag water might well be mitigated by wealthy farmers with less wasteful irrigation techniques, eliminating thirsty crops, and gene-egineering crop plants to use less water. Whether that will be enough I don’t know. However, as I don’t expect the Central Valley to flood, human ingenuity might sustain fairly conventional ag practices, without resorting to extensive vertical farming.

One thing I do expect is that concrete will become a less favored building material. We are already seeing a greater use of engineered wood for commercial offices up to 15 stories. Whether energy intensive materials like concrete can adapt to renewable energy sources, or even should, is an open question. My guess is that carbon taxes make traditional concrete less attractive to alternatives.

Comment by alexandertolley

A derail/side-bar re: Zika virus.

The risk of the mosquitoes hosting/transmitting Zika virus entering the US are relatively high thanks to GW, specifically increased average temperatures across most regions. However, because of the drought of recent years, is Zika actually less of a threat because there are fewer breeding ponds available?

How, if at all, do environmental scientists collaborate with health care professional bodies (CDC, WHO) in helping to understand/predict rates of transmission of critter-borne diseases? (If no existing collaboration — how could environmental scientists help … what special knowledge, skills, on-going monitoring, etc.?)

Lastly … your thoughts re: wiping out mosquitoes? I once looked up their importance as a food source for which species … seems mosquitoes are maybe 2%-3% for some birds … in other words, not a prime dietary source. Is there anything at all that mosquitoes do or help affect that we would miss if we wiped them out?

At this point, I don’t know whether we need to worry about Zika in California yet. If we get a monster El Nino, a summer tropical storm, consistently hot temperatures, and tourists bringing it through, then yeah, maybe. Otherwise? Harder to say. I’m also not sure whether Zika is a real threat our just the freak-out du jour, as we’ve seen with MERS, SARS, H1N1, Ebola, and so forth. It’s weird that a known but innocuous virus has suddenly is thought to cause microcephaly but be generally innocuous otherwise. Did it mutate, was it always causing problems, and no one cared because it was in Uganda, or is it less harmful than we’re afraid of? All I can say is insufficient data at this point.

The infectious disease community does work with ecologists at times. It’s not something I particularly know about, but if we had an outbreak of, say, bubonic plague of Hanta Virus here, I might get involved if I could help them figure out where people were running into ground squirrels or wood rats. The basic question that needs to be answered when a disease spills over from an animal host to humans is whether there’s some specific environmental change that aided the virus, and if so, what to do about it.

As for mosquitoes, my feeling is that healthy ecosystems contain a plethora of parasites, so I have to ask what’s so wrong with what we’re doing right now that mosquitoes have to go. Is fear enough of an excuse, or is civilization getting so unstable that mosquitoes can wreck it? This is something I talked about in Hot Earth Dreams and in an earlier blog post about humans as a locust-style species, capable of outbreaks of civilization. The key idea is the Enemy Release Hypothesis: by eliminating mosquitoes, we’re trying to release human populations from control by mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Otherwise, there are a lot of mosquito species in the world. Many (perhaps all, especially the males) pollinate flowers, most don’t bite humans, and eliminating them all probably would have a wide range of unpredictable effects. For one, we’d find out which other species mosquito-borne diseases were keeping under control, until we eliminated mosquitoes.

Comment by Heteromeles

Re: ‘I’m also not sure whether Zika is a real threat our just the freak-out du jour, as we’ve seen with … SARS …’

The SARS freak-out was completely in order … I visited one of the Toronto-area hospitals that had set up a SARS ward during this outbreak. Toronto kept scrupulous records: the mortality rate hit 18% vs. the overall mortality rate for SARS most often reported (6.6%) which is highly diluted by PRC numbers.

Public Health Agency of Canada …. excerpt from site:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/sars-sras/naylor/2-eng.php#Kowloon

‘The physician who intubated Mr. P in the ICU wore a mask, eye protection, gown, and gloves while performing the procedure, but he developed SARS. Anxieties about the infectivity of SARS were understandably magnified by this incident, especially when three nurses present at the intubation were also infected. Intubation procedures, a significant source of droplet production, would be a recurring cause of SARS transmission during the outbreak. ‘

I agree that the medical and public health communities’ response to SARS and the rest was completely appropriate. Those are deadly diseases that could have turned into epidemics if not controlled. Whether all the crap that’s come out of the mouths of the news media and the politicians is another matter entirely. At this point, I’m only hearing the latter, so that’s why I talk about Zika as the freak-out du jour. While it’s great as disaster news, I don’t have a clue yet what its real public health implications are yet.

Comment by Heteromeles

FYI … The American Mosquito Control Association is holding its annual conference in Savannah Georgia this week.

Program below … conference topics start on pg 26 with ‘Recent and Emergent Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Disease Threats to the US’.

List of regional directors shows a handful with university addresses (encouraging). There’s an official publication journal for members only, plus educational kiddie-level books and posters available for public purchase.

Click to access program%20book%20main%20content%20final%20draft%204.pdf

Very intriguing! I would say that I’m curious on what tropical organisms would make it up to the new tropical forests. Obviously at first there really won’t be much due to the lag time, but by 1,500 hence? I’m curious if we would see peccaries and tapirs. Then again, I can also imagine that people would hunt and kill the majority of those organisms, so perhaps we would see little.

Also, on this Zika stuff, I question whether we really could get rid of mosquitoes. All the methods of eradications seem to just temporarily decrease their numbers, and they end up rebounding again after a bit of time. Seems like one of those half-formed concepts that keep on getting tooted as a saving grace.

Comment by Whachamacallit

Tapirs not so much–they’re pretty rare now, and there are some nasty stories about what they’ve done to keepers in captivity. Peccaries, on the other hand, do just great in deserts, so if they don’t get wiped out in the next 150 years or so, yes, I’d expect them all over Northern California. The basic point of that tropics is that it’s tropical in climate, but not necessarily tropical in fauna or flora. They’ll be very ad hoc kinds of ecosystems, more like what you’d see now in places like the Huntington Gardens or the San Diego Zoo than Central America. To pick one example, I’d expect passionfruit vines, but I’d also expect poison oak and grape vines. I wouldn’t expect most of tropical America’s great diversity of lianas to make it north through the desert to the Northwest Coast, sad to say.

Comment by Heteromeles

Your population numbers for CA down the road sound pretty much what I have figured, probably based on reading the same books. I have read the one on tending the wild.I don’t know if you have read The West Without Water. That’s a good one as well since it deals with a lot of historical weather disasters that happen on a once a century basis or less frequently. One good one to look up is the big flood of 1862, an event that occurred in the past every 140 years on average. The flood in 1862 had Sacramento under 20 feet of water. The population of the central valley is currently around 7 million people. That’s a lot of people to displace. But global warming and long term droughts might well disrupt the mega floods every 140 years cycle.
We have taken to camping in the Mojave desert in the winter. Last year we stayed in the Mojave preserve twice, once in January and once in March. I noticed that most of the mesquites we saw appeared to be dead. I might be wrong about that, but I checked the branches on a number of mesquites and they appeared to be without life. Mesquites are usually an indicator of underground water. They can supposedly send roots down a hundred feet. It seems that after 4 years of drought and elevated temperatures they may have run out of ground water. We’re going back again this spring and I will be checking the mesquites again.
I have also read that the Joshua trees are in danger of extinction because the moths which pollinate them can’t take the heat. Perhaps they can migrate to higher elevations to survive. Don’t know if that will be a long term solution, however.
Re surviving drought, I read that natives in the Bay area where I live used to leave the coast during droughts even though there was plenty of food in the bay. Apparently, the lack of fresh water drove them inland.
Re various engineering fixes for sea level rise, I am not optimistic. Without capital and cheap oil, it is hard to mobilize great construction projects. Sea level rise will hit both coasts simultaneously and the federal government will probably not be in a position to fund sea walls for all the cities that will be affected.

Comment by Wolfgang Brinck

All excellent comments, thanks! I’ll have to find The West Without Water. Somehow I missed that one. I have heard about previous mega-droughts, and yesterday I saw some pictures for the Sweetwater dam break here in San Diego a century or so ago. There’s a lot of water history here that most people don’t know.

As for the mesquites in the Mojave, that’s sad to hear, and I hope some survived. Planted mesquites are getting a bit weedy near the coast in San Diego. Those, plus the mesquites on Hawai’i (aka Kiawe trees), made me think that they might do well in higher heat, closer to the coast.

Comment by Heteromeles

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