Space & Innovation

Pacific Coast Apartments Are About to Fall Off a Cliff

Eroding cliffs are forcing some California apartment dwellers to move. Continue reading →

Plenty of people love the idea of living in a house or apartment close to the ocean. It's safe to say that nobody likes the idea of their house or apartment actually tumbling into the ocean, but that's precisely the situation that's facing residents of an apartment complex in Pacifica, Calif.

They find themselves living closer and closer to the sea as the 80-foot cliff on which their dwellings are perched crumbles away. And yet remarkably, at least some of them are reluctant to move away.

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Both the scale of the problem and the determination of the residents are vividly highlighted in the video below. At around the 30-second mark, a chunk of cliff collapses into the sea; yet, later on, the video shows people calmly smoking on their balcony.

click to play video

The Pacifica cliffs have been crumbling for decades, but the pace has steadily increased as sediment from the San Francisco Bay, which sustained the beaches and protected the cliffs, has been greatly reduced by damming, water diversion and dredging. Increasing sea level rise will only exacerbate the problem; but by then, the buildings will likely be long gone.

"I filmed a small portion of a very large problem with that city," Duncan Sinfield, an assignment editor at KTVU told The New York Times. "It's got to be happening a lot more often. We're just not seeing it."

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Three apartment buildings have been evacuated since 2010, and following El Nino storms in January, city officials declared an emergency and condemned 20 apartments, warning residents to pack their belongings and move out. Several are planning to stay as long as they can, and some have expressed their indignation at being told to leave, but others are resigned to their fate.

"I can't continue to have a professional work life, and social life as well, not knowing if I come home and my property is not going to be there," resident Michael McHenry told CBS News. "It's not a way to live."

You've heard Chicago described as the Windy City, even though its average wind speed of 10.3 miles an hour really is only slightly higher than the rest of the United States. But there are some spots on the planet where fierce gales will knock you over. Antarctica has some of the nastiest winds on the planet, in part because of its ice cover, which causes a mass of cold, dense air over its interior to sink and funnel air through rugged mountains to create sudden fast-moving katabatic winds of up to 45 miles an hour. The highest wind-speed recorded on the continent, on July 6, 1913 at Cape Denison, hit 95 miles per hour.

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Gruissan in southern France is a favorite spot for windsurfers, due to powerful offshore winds that have been known to hit 78 nautical miles per hour, or about 90 mph.

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Mount Washington, N.H, situated in the White Mountains, is a barrier for westerly winds and lows along the coastline, and gusts of hurricane-force wind aren't that uncommon. In 1934, one gust hit 231 miles per hour.

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The Sahara Desert's winds are so powerful they can kick up dust that reaches Texas, 5,000 miles away.

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Mount Everest, which pokes into the stratosphere, has some brutal winds. The highest-ever recorded wind speed was 175 miles per hour back in February 2004.

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El Reno, Okla., in the tornado-plagued southwestern plains, had a mammoth twister in 2013 that hit speeds as high as 296 miles per hour and had a maximum width of 2.5 miles.

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Barrow Island, Australia, has some powerful winds. On April 10, 1996, a weather station there recorded a gust that hit 253 miles per hour, the strongest ever reported in meteorological history.

Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America, has fierce winds that historically gave it a reputation as a sailor's graveyard.

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