Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz. Known for his expertise in coastal geology and oceanography, Gary writes a popular bi-weekly newspaper column, Our Ocean Backyard, and is a frequent contact for news and media on questions of climate change, sea-level rise, and coastal erosion.
Gary is the author or coauthor of 13 books. He has served on several National Academy of Science Committees, received numerous awards for his work as an educator and scientist, and has the distinction of being the only scientist to be named a Coastal Hero by the California Coastal Commission and Sunset magazine. A native Californian, Gary has made Santa Cruz County his home for 55 years.
The oceans cover 71% of the planet and pose a myriad of hazards to everyone from blue-water sailors to the casual beachcomber. From rip currents to rogue waves, the possibilities for some water-borne calamity seem endless, but in most cases a deadly outcome can be avoided or at least mitigated by having a better understanding of the risks involved. This book presents cautionary tales of the most dangerous aspects of oceans encounters, including hazardous sea life such as sharks and rays, the power of waves and high seas that can engulf an entire fleet of naval vessels. In each case the author provides actual examples of various ocean phenomena and the people who either survive or succumb to them, from competitive big-wave surfers to the passengers and crew of the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2, severely damaged by a 95-foot wave that seemed to come out of nowhere in the middle of the night. The author also addresses several well-known maritime disasters and their causes, as well as such phenomena as the so-called Bermuda Triangle. Above all, The Ominous Oceans seeks to provide a better understanding of the perilous seas, so that we will be better prepared before taking that swim or venturing off to places unknown. (2022)
The Monterey Bay Region seems to have it all—sandy beaches, sunshine, the redwoods and rivers—paradise for most of us. This scenic landscape that has drawn people here for hundreds of years owes its origins to the underlying geology and climate, and both of these are somewhat unpredictable. Earthquakes and landslides, floods and droughts, El Niños and seacliff erosion all take place more frequently than we care to remember. Yet they are a fundamental part of this landscape we inhabit and that we can expect to experience for as long as we have an Earth. (2018)
Coastal regions around the world have become increasingly crowded, intensively developed, and severely exploited. Hundreds of millions of people living in these low-lying areas are subject to short-term coastal hazards such as cyclones, hurricanes, and destruction due to El Niño, and are also exposed to the long-term threat of global sea-level rise. These massive concentrations of people expose often-fragile coastal environments to the runoff and pollution from municipal, industrial, and agricultural sources as well as the impacts of resource exploitation and a wide range of other human impacts. Can environmental impacts be reduced or mitigated and can coastal regions adapt to natural hazards?
Coasts in Crisis is a comprehensive assessment of the impacts that the human population is having on the coastal zone globally and the diverse ways in which coastal hazards impact human settlement and development. Gary Griggs provides a concise overview of the individual hazards, risks, and issues threatening the coastal zone. (2017)
The Edge is a dramatic snapshot of the California coast's past, present, and probable future in a time of climate change and expanding human activity. Written by two marine experts who grew up on the coast, The Edge is both a celebration of the coast's natural and cultural uniqueness and a warning of the many complex changes that threaten that uniqueness.
The Pacific coast is the most iconic region of California and one of the most fascinating and rapidly changing places in the world. Densely populated, urbanized, and industrialized—but also home to wilderness with complex, fragile ecosystems—the coast is the place where humanity and nature coexist in a precarious balance that is never perfectly stable. As ocean levels rise, coastal communities are starting to erode, and entire neighborhoods have been lost to the sea. Coastal ecosystems and wildlife that were already stressed by human settlement now face new dangers, some threatening their very existence. The combined impacts of climate change, housing and commercial growth, commercial fisheries, oil drilling and production, along with environmental advocacy, all come together to define the future of the region. A masterful and sweeping synthesis of environmental and social science, The Edge presents a comprehensive portrait of natural and cultural history—the story of the people, communities, industries, ecology, and wildlife of the California coast. (2017)
In a state identified with change, California's 1,100-mile coastline lives up to the reputation. Storm waves attack sea cliffs, earthquakes trigger landslides, and ocean waves relentlessly move sand. Over the past century, humans have changed the coast too, particularly in Southern California, where some stretches of coastline have been completely altered.
Thanks to the California Coastal Records Project, the brainchild of Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman, we now have an aerial photographic record of the entire coastline, from the redwood forests near the Oregon border to the urbanized shoreline of San Diego Bay. California Coast from the Air features 150 of the best photographs from this scientifically valuable yet truly artistic collection of more than 80,000 images. (2014)
From sunny beaches where thousands escape the summer's heat to wild and isolated rocky cliffs, California boasts one of the most spectacular and diverse shorelines in the world. Accompanied by numerous color photographs, diagrams, and maps, this guide explains why California's Pacific Coast looks and works the way it does. Gary Griggs explores the dynamic forces that have created beaches and the coastline through lively discussions of tectonics, the formation of waves, rain and wind, changing climates and sea levels, human impacts, and coastal erosion. (2010)
The scenic coastline of northern Monterey Bay has enthralled residents and visitors alike for well over a century. Yet storms and relentless waves over time have taken their toll, devouring shorelines, washing away beaches, collapsing cliffs, and battering oceanfront structures. (2006)
Crowded into the beautiful, narrow strip at the edge of the ocean, the large number of people who live near California's dynamic coastline often have little awareness of the hazards-waves, tides, wind, storms, rain, and runoff-that erode and impact the coast and claim property on a regular basis. This up-to-date, authoritative, and easy-to-use book, a geological profile of the California coast from Mexico to the Oregon border, describes the landforms and processes that shape the coastline and beaches, documents how erosion has affected development, and discusses the options that are available for dealing with coastal hazards and geologic instability.
A completely revised and updated edition of Living with the California Coast (1985), this book features hundreds of new photographs and the latest data on human activity on the coast, on climate change, on rising seas levels, and on coastal erosion and protection. With its dramatic photographs and mile-by-mile maps, Living with the Changing California Coast is an essential resource for those intending to buy or build along the coast, those who need specific information about various coastal regions, and those who are seeking information about how this remarkable coastline has evolved. (2005)
For the three billion people on Earth who live in coastal regions, the ocean is figuratively, if not literally, “our backyard.” Many of us have sought out ocean areas in which to live, work, or vacation. The oceans enrich our lives in countless ways, but our interactions with them have not always been positive. In April 2008, Gary Griggs, a coastal geologist and oceanographer who has studied the oceans for over forty-six years and is known for making science understandable, enjoyable, and accessible to non-scientists, was asked to write a bi-weekly column, Our Ocean Backyard for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz sits smack on the ocean. California is in many ways defined by its coast, so it isn't surprising that so many people are drawn towards our ocean edge. Whether it is our weather and climate, or any number of recreational pursuits: fishing, surfing, sailing, jogging or walking, or just observing and exploring, the ocean provides something for all of us. In turn, engaging in each of these different pursuits generates a healthy curiosity—historical, geological, biological—as does simply living, day-to-day, in a community facing the sea.
This collection of 170 columns explores several of these curious ocean questions. Should we worry about tsunamis here on the central coast? How did Yellow Bank Beach, Davenport Landing, Greyhound Rock, Castle Beach and Black Point get their names? Gary explains why the sea behaves as it does, while bringing our coastal history and landscape into perspective. Our climate is changing and the ocean is responding. Many of us are eager to learn more about our oceans and coast, particularly the science behind it all, but we don't often understand that science very well. And to make matters worse, many scientists who write about their particular specialized area, don't do so in way that is understandable or relevant to the non-scientist. Gary’s stories, which draw upon our rich history of ocean exploration and discovery, are written for anyone with an interest in the oceans—not just in Monterey Bay or the central coast—and shed much needed light on what we can expect in the years and decades to come. Gary writes not to advocate, but rather to illuminate. His goal is always to explain the science, which in turn enhances our enjoyment of this beautiful resource, and also empowers us to make considered, informed decisions—whether it is in our daily lives, or in the voting booth. (2014)
News and More
Our Ocean Backyard
Ongoing articles by Gary Griggs
Santa Cruz Sentinel
In the face of sea level rise, can we reimagine California’s vanishing coastline?
Los Angeles Times – August 22, 2023
Waves grow up to 13 feet tall in California as Earth warms, research finds
The Associated Press, by Julie Watson – August 3, 2023
California waves get bigger as Earth warms, research finds
KSBW – August 2, 2023
Preparing for El Niño
Santa Cruz Good Times – August 1, 2023
USGS report predicts rising sea levels threaten California's coast
CBS Bay Area – May 30, 2023
Can California’s coastline be saved? Study shows up to 70% could be wiped out by 2100
Santa Cruz Sentinel – May 30, 2023
Holding Back Sea Level Rise
KNTV NBC Bay Area, by Kari Hall – May 2, 2023
Fact check: Trump’s latest false climate figure is off by more than 1,000 times
CNN, by Daniel Dale – April 24, 2023
Expert warns flooding may plague Virginians regardless of where they are
RADIO IQ, by Sandy Hausman – April 14, 2023
UC Santa Cruz professor says rising sea levels are a growing threat to coastal California
KCBX Public Radio – April 11, 2023
Perils in Paradise: Natural Disasters in Santa Cruz County with Gary Griggs
Talk sponsored by the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History – March 2, 2023
What California’s big winter storms mean for the future
Q&A with Gary Griggs
Bay Area News Group – February 18, 2023
Collapse of cliff above Santa Cruz surfers is caught on video
Santa Cruz Sentinel – February 16, 2023
Santa Cruz’s Waterfront Promenade Reaches an Inflection Point
New York Times – February 13, 2023
‘It’s a losing battle’: Storms shattered Santa Cruz's iconic promenade. Is it worth fixing?
San Francisco Chronicle – January 31, 2023
Future of Iconic Coastal Road in Doubt Following January Storms
The San Francisco Standard – January 25, 2023
Battered by Storms, California Coastal Towns Prepare for Another Deluge
New York Times – January 10, 2023
Santa Cruz’s most-tenured ocean observer in awe of storm damage
Lookout Santa Cruz – January 6, 2023
Legendary oceanography professor has made sea changes in students' lives
UCSC Newscenter – May 19, 2021
Website co-hosted by Gary Griggs
University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)
Gary Griggs’ research is focused on the coastal zone and ranges from coastal evolution and development, through shoreline processes, coastal hazards, coastal engineering, and sea level rise. Recent research projects have focused on documenting and understanding coastal erosion processes including temporal and spatial variations in rates of retreat; evaluating the effectiveness of coastal protection structures and the impacts of coastal engineering projects (seawalls, jetties, breakwaters) on coastal processes and beaches; evaluating beach processes and quantifying littoral cell budgets and human impacts on these budgets; impacts of extreme events such as El Niños) on coastlines; the impacts of sea-level rise on California's beaches and coastline; and coastal policies to reduce the impacts of hazards and sea level rise.