Places and Values

When I first wrote about my hometown at the beginning of the semester, it was from a distance, a kind of removed reflection. It feels strange to be revisiting this place on paper, now that my feet physically touch the ground I’m writing about, but coming full circle in being mindful about the history and ongoing processes that shape my landscape also seems like a nice--albeit not ideal, though what is?--way to be finishing off the semester. The place that I want to reflect upon is Long Beach, California, a city along the coast of southern California that envelops a number of different physical features of the landscape within its city limits. On my initial writing assignment, Dave pointed out that my landscape may share some characteristics in common with those of the shorelines and barrier islands off the coast of Massachusetts. After getting to know the particularities of these features within that landscape, I can attest to there being many similarities to how the natural formations of Long Beach are structured as well.

The thing that stood out to me the most about the comparison between Long Beach and other geologic shoreline processes was how quickly changing and fleeting shoreline formations can be. Because Long Beach is a very developed city, it can often feel like we exist in more of a man-made, built up world, than a natural one. Going to ‘nature’ usually constitutes driving for half an hour to some kind of reserve; however, there are small pockets of protected land that occur within the city itself. Because Long Beach is so residential--and has the added commercial value of being home to one of the largest ports not only on the west coast but in the country—the idea of something dramatically changing the landscape is a sizable concern. A human-built feature that defines the shoreline in Long Beach’s breakwater, a miles-long wall in the ocean that barriers the city. Unlike other instances we have seen in class, like levees along the Connecticut or the spillways along the Mississippi, formed to protect inhabited land from natural disasters, Long Beach’s breakwater was initially implemented to prevent enemy submarines from gaining access to the port. Though it may not have been intentional, this sea wall has had other quelling effects on the dynamics of waves on the beach, as most waves don’t make it past the breakwater. This heavily stilts natural processes of sediment transport from the ocean to the sandy beach.

Because many of the processes that would happen on the shore were there normal wave interactions are stagnated due to the lack of waves, I wonder if the shorelines are receding. The sand on the beach that would usually be replenished by the depositing of more sand from the ocean would instead be eroded by wind and formed into dunes that line the shore. However, I have also witnessed an active attempt by the city to thwart some of these natural processes by physically bringing to the beach truckloads of sand and smoothing out dune formations through ‘beach grooming’ efforts. Something that struck me about the shorelines and barrier islands we learned about in class is how quickly their features and locations can change over just a short period of time in the event of a storm. Even though the area of Southern California I live in tends to have relatively calm weather, I think it’s interesting that the city makes such a concerted effort to maintain the beaches in the ways that they do.

I am interested to know, though, with expected ice melt tied to Global Warming, if a rising sea level will have a catastrophic effect on the beaches and residents of Long Beach. Many people have their houses right along the beach for easy access to the water. A rising sea level could possibly undermine the effects of the breakwater--especially if the city plans to remove it within the next few years--and wash the shoreline further inland. Because the beaches are incorporated very intentionally into city planning, an advancing shoreline would most definitely impede on residences and businesses. This isn’t to say that building these structures over a hundred years ago right on the beach was a ‘good’ idea, but it’s a fact of life that won't be easily altered unless shoreline residents voluntarily let go of their homes.

While the state of the city’s beaches are definitely a point of concern for everyone in Long Beach, I personally live much further inland from the ocean in a suburban community. Based on what we learned about in class about the natural presence of lagoons that extend beyond the shore, and in noting the presence of protected wetlands in the city, I would guess that the kind of land I live on may have once been lagoon-like, a long time ago. One of the most important factors that leads me to thinking this is the huge presence of oil drilling rigs within the city limits. Occasionally, there will even be a set of rigs in the middle of a neighborhood. All of the organic material accumulated and buried in lagoons seems like a good candidate to transform into oil; it is interesting, though, that there is such a dichotomy in Long Beach between a sense of protection and a sense of exploitation of the land’s natural resources and features. Because the city is a tourist destination, our largest off-shore oil drilling platforms are actually surrounded by façades of hotels to hide the unseemly appearance of the oil rigs for beachgoers.

As a current resident of the city, I think the primary thing I have really begun to notice, through taking the course and gaining a larger understanding of the timescales and systems of landscape changes over time, is how much anthropogenic action can be at odds with geologic processes. I know that with Global Warming becoming a more and more imposing threat for people not just in Long Beach but around the world, there has been an surge of general mindfulness of the Earth’s natural processes in the context of man-made alterations. However, in coming back home, I have realized just how extensively people have built their lives along the lines of geologic history, and how tied up we are in the impermanent state of the Earth that we’ve built upon in recently modern history. With the last writing assignment we did on the Snowball Earth, a state in the Earth record where almost everything we consider to be the norm of the world we live in now was turned upside down, I was reminded about the fact that people have been around for such a relatively short time, yet have created such massive impacts on the Earth in the name of creating comfort and a sense of permanence on what is actually an ever-changing environment. I’m torn on the question of whether to let beaches be or to build up more infrastructure in protection of the city because it is difficult to reconcile my position as a person within a community of other people, and as someone who has developed a deeper appreciation of the Earth as a natural force. I think it is so critical for people to be able to look beyond the current state of things and to keep the Earth in mind as they build towards the future with sustainability and love for the planet’s giving, though also potentially destructive, potential, and I hope that in looking to the future, I can try to find mindfulness in pivoting human action in cooperation with the Earth, and not in opposition with it.


Anonymized Student Work Example

Dave Jones

Surficial Earth Dynamics

May 11, 2020