Adam Young spent the last three years firing a laser from the back of his truck at Del Mar’s cliffs which are crumbling into the Pacific Ocean.
Cliff collapses along the California coast killed three Encinitas beachgoers in 2019. That same year, another bluff collapse in Del Mar destabilized a set of train tracks regularly carrying passengers between Los Angeles and San Diego. Policymakers need to make big decisions about how best to reckon with earth that seems to fall at random, but scientists still don’t understand what truly causes them to fall.
That’s what Young, a coastal geomorphologist (the study of how the earth’s surface formed and changes) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wants to know: If we know how ocean waves and winter rains eat away at a cliff face, can we eventually predict where and when it will collapse?