This Friday, the 2012-13 Critical Issues in America series will kick off this year’s theme of “Figuring Sea Level Rise” with its first installment, which will discuss the role of global warming and rising sea levels in greater Santa Barbara.

The event, entitled “Santa Barbara Geography — Past, Present and as the Sea Levels Rise,” will take place at 1:00 p.m. in Bren Hall and will feature a lecture by UCSC earth science professor and Marine Institute Director Gary Griggs, who co-authored the City of Santa Barbara Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Study. Other speakers include Senior Associate Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher, earth science professor Edward Keller and College of Creative Studies Dean Bruce Tiffney, who will act as moderator.

Speakers in the series will discuss sea level rise in Santa Barbara, including what the current models indicate about the rate at which sea levels are rising, what the effects will be and how coastal communities can deal with the storm surges, erosion and intrusion of saltwater into aquifers and wetlands beside a rising ocean.

According to Griggs, the two greatest hazards Santa Barbara must address are the retreating coastal bluffs and flooding of low-lying areas.

“The City of Santa Barbara is unique in that it also owns the airport, and that’s probably the lowest-lying area that’s already been flooded in the past,” Griggs said. “When do we begin to lose the beaches?”

Griggs said Isla Vista properties are not exempt from the affects of rising sea levels because many buildings are built on the edges of slowly eroding cliffs.

“Right now, Isla Vista is a big problem and we didn’t deal with that,” Griggs said. “North of the city college, out along the mesa, the bluffs and cliffs are eroding and the other way up to East Beach, there are erosion and landslides. … The closer the water is to the base of the cliff, the faster it’s going to erode. Basically, we’re just looking at where the most vulnerable areas in Santa Barbara are and what the risks are.”

According to Scott Simon, outreach coordinator for the Marine Science Institute, researchers are currently monitoring biological factors such as climate change as well as their effects on biodiversity at the Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research site, a complex of coral reefs and lagoons surrounding the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. He added that although there is ongoing research, there is no doubt that sea levels are rising.

Film studies professor Janet Walker, co-convener of the Environmental Media Initiative Research Group at the Carsey-Wolf Center, said the idea for this year’s lecture series arose when members of the group were invited to consult on a film detailing South Pacific islanders facing increases in sea level.

“The EMI explores all of the ways media and the environment influence, structure and inhabit one another,” Walker said. “We’re excited at the prospect of sharing different types of knowledge about sea level rise through these sessions that will bring together faculty, students and other members of the campus and wider community. Our intention is to use this year of exchanging knowledge and experience to develop one or more funded interdisciplinary research projects.”

Other events this quarter include a lecture by Walker on Nov. 13 from 12 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. in Ellison Hall 5824 and a colloquium on climate change adaptation — featuring guest speaker Margaret Davidson, a Zurich Distinguished Visitor on climate change — on Nov. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Bren Hall 1414.

According to the series website, Winter 2013 will focus on “Interactive Visioning,” while Spring 2013 will introduce the Rupe Conference, “Risk and Uncertainty and the Communication of Sea Level Rise.”

Environmental Studies Dept. Chair Josh Schimel said people should approach current environmental issues by drawing connections between how these problems are commonly perceived to what effects they ultimately leave on society.

“I think it’s a really interesting integration of both the scientific side and the media side and human side of how we present it [and] how people understand the issue,” Schimel said. “People don’t act to solve the problems that exist; they act to solve the problems they perceive. How people perceive the problems is fundamentally as important as the underlying scientific basis.”