Geography Term Paper on Impacts of Global Warming on Ballona Wetlands

Impacts of Global Warming on Ballona Wetlands


Wetlands play a critical role in the ecosystem that extends beyond acting as an important habitat for numerous species of plants and animals. They also support numerous economic functions such as tourism. One of the critical roles played by wetlands today is tackling the runaway environmental pollution threatening the existence of both flora and fauna. Wetlands are important carbon sinks and have the ability to purify air and water from the toxic pollutants including gases and chemical compounds. Over the years, wetlands including the Ballona Wetlands nestled between Los Angeles and Marina Del Ray in Southern California are increasingly under threat from global warming. This research study will discuss how global warming has impacted the Ballona Wetlands in Southern California.

Ballona Wetlands occupy a unique environmental position in the Greater Southern California region; it is the last of its kind in the area. The tidal coastal marshland is an important ecosystem despite its dwindling size due to human encroachment and effects of global warming. Ballona Wetlands are home to numerous species of plants and animals. They also serve as important economic hub in the area. However, global warming has exponentially posed severe threats to the ecosystem over the years with increased intensity. The onslaught on Ballona Wetlands by global warming has been twofold: inundation of the sea and siltation from the surrounding areas.

Effects of Global Warming on Sea Levels Around Southern California

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current state of atmospheric temperature including that of air and ocean waters is alarming. The figures current being recorded are the highest; a problem that is strongly linked to increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The rising atmospheric temperatures have been accompanied by rising sea levels across the globe at an average of 3.1 mm per year within the last two decades (IPCC 2). In a study conducted by Cayan et al, it was established that the sea level around California has risen significantly over the past one and half centuries (58). Future projections of these show the global trend of global warming and sea level rise will continue throughout the 21st century. Specifically, it is estimated that the sea levels around California shall have risen by 101 to 140 centimeters by the end of this century (COCAT 4). This is because the high atmospheric temperatures melt land-based ice with the resulting water finding its way into the oceans. Studies have also shown that increased temperatures lead to “thermal expansion of oceans and seas” (Bergquist et al 64).


Source: COCAT (2010, p. 4).

Global warming has been associated with extreme levels of precipitation including storm surges as well as droughts, hence erode California beaches including areas around Ballona Wetlands leading to rise in sea levels. With urban settlement and economic activities taking up over 80 percent of the area previously making up the Ballona Wetlands, the storms and flooding from urban settlements deposit huge amount of silt collected from building sites and human activities while altering the permeability of the wetlands. The tidal wetlands occupy a low-lying area. Their narrow range of elevation makes them susceptible to any vertical increase in sea levels, while siltation along the coastal area pushes the Ballona Wetlands area inland towards urban settlement (Bergquist et al 64).

Ideally, Ballona Wetlands, which currently measures 600 acres following acquisition and designation of the area as a reserve, would have adapted to rising of the sea levels by moving inland (Mazza n.pag). The habitats within the ecosystem would have transgressed to high lying areas. However, the urbanization and farming activities which occupied a huge portion of the wetlands, inhibit such adaptation (Bergquist et al 64). This poses a significant threat to various species of plants and animals inhabiting the area. They are endangered; some of the birds which historically nested in the area migrated from Ballona Wetlands and only returned following the federal government’s initiative of designating the area as a reserve (Friends of Ballona Wetlands n.pag). Several endangered species that inhabit the wetlands such as the El Segundo blue butterfly, California least tern and Belding’s savannah sparrow face extinction without proper intervention (Heal the Bay n.pag).


Figure 1: Part of the unique flora inhabiting Ballona Wetlands

Source: Bergquist et al (2013, p. 1).


Wetlands are important habitats for thousands of species such as animals and plants. Additionally, it acts as water purification channels and a source of livelihood for local communities. Their carbon sequestration capability makes them important carbon sinks, hence vital in fighting against global warming. However, tidal coastal marshes such as Ballona Wetlands, the only of its kind in Southern California, are increasingly being threatened by global warming and human activities.

Wetland areas are increasingly receding inland; towards urban settlement. As a low-lying tidal wetland, the historically rising sea levels due to global warming pose a significant threat to its existence. Global warming has set the world’s ecosystem on an unprecedented course with extreme weather conditions such as the El Nino phenomenon marked by storm surges and severe rainfalls and droughts. Severe precipitation and storm surges lead to coastal flooding and siltation along California coastal line while severe droughts cause melting of land-base ice, which their way into the ocean via rivers. The Ballona Wetlands ecosystem cannot adapt to the rising levels hence its flora and fauna are increasingly being endangered.