USC Sea Grant, in partnership with the City of Santa Monica and the U.S. Geological Survey, helped develop a virtual reality installation that was deployed on the Santa Monica Pier in 2016. The installation, nicknamed the “Owl” due to its appearance, was a pair of freestanding viewers that reveal how sea level rise will affect the Santa Monica shoreline. Visualizations displayed panoramic views of how the beach and infrastructure will flood with sea level rise and big storms by the end of the century and are available to view below. The Owl visualization also showed how adaptation strategies such as sand dunes may reduce the risk of coastal flooding and beach erosion. 

This tool and accompanying survey helped the City of Santa Monica engage local residents in its planning efforts to reduce the risks from climate change and gauge levels of concern about sea level rise and views on natural options to protect the shoreline. The survey also helped inform the City of Santa Monica’s Local Coastal Program Update and Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. 

The sea level rise scenarios visualized in the Santa Monica Owl were created using state-of-the-art scientific models developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Sea level rise in Southern California is expected to match global projections with an increase of 5-24 inches from 2000 to 2050 and 17-66 inches from 2000 to 2100.  Sea level rise, in combination with the impacts from coastal storms, will expedite many of the natural processes that already occur, such as erosion and beach loss. Increased sea levels will result in a gradual landward movement of water, narrowing the beach. As cities begin to plan for these impacts, it is vital to engage the public so that local communities understand and support policies implemented to reduce the risks.