County of Marin - News Releases - Sea-Level Rise

For Immediate Release
December 15, 2014

Public to Get High-Tech Visuals of Sea-Level Rise

‘OWL’ devices to be installed on popular Mill Valley-Sausalito pathway

San Rafael, CA – For several months this spring, Marin County residents will be able to use a new interactive tool to learn about the impacts of sea-level rise along southern Marin’s bay shoreline.

A device called an OWL is used by a viewer to see simulations of sea-level rise.Built to resemble old-fashioned coin-operated binoculars common at vista points and national parks overlooks, a new and sophisticated interactive device, called an OWL, incorporates software that allows the viewer to see the area around them, just like a traditional viewer, but also shows other possible scenarios. By looking into the viewfinder, users also will see what projected rising waters will look like in the future, putting a 21st century high-tech twist on 20thcentury viewfinder technology.

The two viewers, developed by San Francisco-based OWLized, will be installed for 12 weeks as a pilot project along the Sausalito-Mill Valley multiuse pathway (installation dates are to be determined). One OWL will be kid-sized and accessible to people with disabilities.

“This is such an exciting way to learn about future sea-level rise,” said Supervisor Kate Sears, who represents District 3 in Southern Marin. “I’m very curious to see how the community interacts with it, especially kids. They represent the generation that will live with the effects of climate change. I hope that the OWLs will intrigue people and inspire action.”

Experts have projected that the bay waterline will rise more than 3 feet in the coming decades, causing long-term impacts on Marin’s coastal communities. However, the gradual nature of those impacts is a major challenge to planning and getting the community involved. The County completed its Climate Action Plan and is evaluating best practices to prepare for sea-level rise and other ramifications of climate change.

Using the grant-funded OWL devices and the powerful visual imagery of simulated sea-level rise, the County hopes to convey the impacts of rising waters along the bay shoreline and encourage community engagement. The interactive software, developed by San Rafael’s Autodesk, will also capture viewers’ response to the experience and provide a website where they can learn more about flood risks and climate change.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is charged with mapping flood plain areas and has become interested in strategies that encourage community engagement. A collaborative public-private process resulted in a FEMA grant of $150,000 to explore how best to involve local communities in this nascent planning process. The partnership includes the County of Marin, FEMA, OWLized, Autodesk, the nonprofit Climate Access, and research partner Dr. Susanne Moser of Stanford University.

“We’re hoping that the thousands of students, walkers and cyclists who use the path will take the time to interact with this incredible device and will become community partners as we start the essential conversations about how we plan for sea-level rise,” Sears said.

Learn more about the County’s efforts on the Pacific Coast at


Jack Liebster
Planning Manager
Community Development Agency

3501 Civic Center Drive
Suite 308
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6278
Email: Jack Liebster
Community Development website