MENLO PARK, Calif.—The headquarters of Facebook sits on a sprawling campus beside San Francisco Bay, a scenic location with water bordering three sides.
The 57-acre site features two- and three-story office buildings in shades of red and orange, outdoor basketball hoops, and sofa-sized benches on large lawns. Just outside the property, however, is a reminder that this location has a major drawback.
A roughly 8-foot levee curves next to Facebook's land. Built when Sun Microsystems owned the spot in the 1970s, the grass-covered buttress holds back water from the east. Another barricade on the north blocks the daily high tide.
As seas rise because of climate change, however, those barriers won't be enough, said those studying options to protect California's Silicon Valley.
Facebook's site at 1 Hacker Way "is pretty much surrounded by tidal waters," said Eric Mruz, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the social media giant's campus.
"Facebook is going to have to deal with sea level rise," Mruz said. "It's going to be a huge threat, with sea level rise projections skyrocketing now. They will definitely have to do something with their levees to protect their property."
Facebook is just one of the well-known companies in Silicon Valley's technology mecca that will face the effects of climate change in years ahead. Others located near the water here include Google, Yahoo, Dell, LinkedIn, Intuit, Intel, Cisco, Citrix and Oracle. Scientists predict seas will climb as much as 16 inches by midcentury and 65 inches by 2100. Storms are expected to intensify and occur more often. Both pose dangers for businesses and homes near the bay.
Yet Silicon Valley, a place that in many ways creates the future through technological advances, largely has yet to tackle the repercussions that climate change will bring in years ahead, several people said.
'They don't think long-term'
The life cycle of products made in Silicon Valley is "so short they don't think long-term," said Will Travis, senior adviser to the Bay Area Joint Policy Committee, which coordinates regional planning.
It's a conflict some are working to change. The region will have to start addressing the coming threats, Mruz said.
"It's imminent," Mruz said. "There's no question in my mind; everybody around the bay, we're going to have to do something, at every spot around the bay."
Much of the Golden State's coastline is at risk, experts explained, but Silicon Valley -- home to 3 million people -- is particularly vulnerable. In the early 1900s it was a series of orchards known as Valley of Heart's Delight. As water was pumped up for irrigation, the ground sank.
As a result, Silicon Valley is 3 to 10 feet below sea level, Travis said. Dirt levees exist but don't ensure protection. They weren't engineered but were pushed together when businesses later cleared land to create ponds for harvesting salt.
A draft study from the Army Corps of Engineers found that an extreme storm coupled with higher seas could top them and devastate homes and businesses.
"Starting out, they're already 10 feet below sea level," Mruz said. "If they had no levees in place, that water would be miles inland already. Add sea level rise on top of that, you add storm surge on top of that."
"All of these businesses, Silicon Valley basically backs right up to the bay," Mruz added. "You have all of them, Yahoo, Google, all right there. Without some type of flood protection potentially in front of that, you could flood that whole area. You're talking billions of dollars."
There aren't firm numbers on how much is at risk in Silicon Valley should seas rise as predicted. Santa Clara County -- located 45 miles south of San Francisco -- earlier this year won a $1 million state grant to examine climate vulnerabilities and find potential strategies. That work is projected to take nearly three years.