Scripps to lead research into bluff collapses with $2.5 million from the state


SAN DIEGO — A bill signed into law this week in California will fund new research into bluff collapses as scientists look into developing a warning system.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego says its scientists will lead a three-year study funded by $2.5 million from the state. The goal is to better understand the timing of bluff failures while scientists explore the development of an early landslide warning system, the research facility said in a Wednesday news release.

San Diego County has seen a number of notable collapses over the past few years. Three women were killed in Encinitas in 2019 when a 30-by-25-foot sandstone chunk broke loose and fell onto them at Grandview Beach.

More recently, a beachgoer captured video in January of a collapse at Torrey Pines followed by a collapse in Del Mar in February. Another bluff came crashing down in June at Grandview Beach, south of Beacon’s Beach. No injuries were reported.

Research already underway by Scripps Oceanography coastal geomorphologist Adam Young involves using a Light Detection and Ranging system, known as LiDAR, to scan cliffs with a laser. The process creates very high resolution, three-dimensional spatial maps of the coast, according to Scripps.

“Each LiDAR survey provides a snapshot in time that we compare to previous surveys, to measure and track erosion over time,” Young said in the news release. “We use these surveys combined with other sensors to quantify the erosion processes, identify erosion patterns, and examine stability conditions.”

The funds will allow Young and Scripps Oceanography geophysicist Mark Zumberge to try to better understand the processes that lead up to cliff failures, including if any signature exists that could help predict heightened risk at specific locations.

One element of the research also includes installing “strainmeters,” a technological advance developed at Scripps Oceanography for seismic research, that will measure earth movements at the scale of microns.

Boerner Horvath, whose district includes coastal North County, supported the bill, calling bluff collapses “a constant threat” for fatalities, injuries and millions of dollars in damage to vital infrastructure.

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