Pho­tos of ‘king tides’ glob­ally show risks of cli­mate change

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - WEATHER - By Gil­lian Flac­cus

DEPOE BAY, ORE. >> Tourists, na­ture lovers and am­a­teur sci­en­tists are whip­ping out their cam­eras to doc­u­ment the ef­fects of ex­treme high tides on shore­lines from the United States to New Zealand, and by do­ing so are help­ing bet­ter pre­dict what ris­ing sea lev­els will mean for coastal com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

A net­work of vol­un­teer pho­tog­ra­phers fans out around the globe dur­ing so­called king tides to cap­ture how high the wa­ter­line gets and where the wa­ter goes. They then up­load the images — many with ge­olo­ca­tion data em­bed­ded — for use by sci­en­tists, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and even city plan­ners as they study and pre­pare for the ef­fects of cli­mate change. The pho­tos show where flooding oc­curs on spe­cific roads, or give clues about whether it’s safe to build new hous­ing, for ex­am­ple, near an erod­ing bluff.

“For us, the king tide of­fers a look at where the wa­ter will be in about 2050, about a foot to a foot and half (30 to 46 cen­time­ters) above nor­mal wa­ter lev­els,” said Skip Stiles, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Wet­lands Watch, a non­profit that helped re­cruit 700 peo­ple to doc­u­ment a king tide in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, for the first time there in 2017.

The group’s ef­forts have since grown into a smart­phone app that uses crowd­sourc­ing to gather images and pin­point flooding.

“What we’re find­ing is there’s a real ap­petite for this data. A lot of the lo­cal­i­ties here are putting to­gether com­pre­hen­sive plans for sea level rise, and I’m get­ting calls from them say­ing, ‘Do you have data? Do you have pho­tos?’ That’s what we’re go­ing for.”

The first of these King Tide Projects in­volv­ing the pub­lic be­gan in 2009 in Aus­tralia. The idea has since spread to more than a dozen coastal states in the U.S., Bri­tish Columbia, New Zealand, Mau­ri­tius and be­yond.

King tides oc­cur about twice a year in coastal ar­eas world­wide when the sun and moon align to en­hance the grav­i­ta­tional pull that pro­duces nor­mal, daily tides. These su­per-high tides came into sharp fo­cus in Jan­uary, when one ar­rived in Ore­gon on the same day as a ma­jor win­ter storm, cre­at­ing 15to 20-foot (4.6- to 6.1-me­ter) waves and a mas­sive swell that sucked a man and his two young chil­dren out to sea. The wo­man who called 911 had been pho­tograph­ing the tides from her yard for the Ore­gon King Tides Pro­ject. The chil­dren, ages 4 and 7, died.

Citizen sci­en­tists are pre­par­ing to doc­u­ment this win­ter’s fi­nal king tide Feb. 8-10 off the U.S. West Coast, fol­lowed by one in New Zealand on Feb. 12.

Flooding from king tides is a pre­view of how sea level rise will af­fect coastal com­mu­ni­ties — and warmer oceans and big­ger storms could am­plify those changes, said Peter Rug­giero, in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ore­gon Cli­mate Change Re­search In­sti­tute. Mod­el­ing shows Ore­gon could ex­pe­ri­ence sea level rise of as lit­tle as a foot (30 cen­time­ters) or as great as 6 feet (1.8 me­ters) in a worst-case sce­nario, he said.

Some of these King Tide Projects, like the one in Ore­gon, are run by non­profit groups, while oth­ers are in part­ner­ship with state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. They all have the same goal: to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and pro­vide a clear-eyed as­sess­ment of how cli­mate change will af­fect ev­ery­day life, from flooded in­ter­sec­tions to cows graz­ing in knee-high salt wa­ter, to pop­u­lar beaches swal­lowed by waves.

“A lot of the con­ver­sa­tion around cli­mate change was what was hap­pen­ing far away and not about what peo­ple were go­ing to be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in their own lives,” said Ma­rina Psaros, who helped de­velop Cal­i­for­nia’s King Tides Pro­ject. “The goal of the pro­ject was to get peo­ple think­ing more about cli­mate change lo­cally in­stead of just po­lar bears.”

In Ge­or­gia, coastal com­mu­ni­ties con­stantly strug­gle with flooding from high tides and storms — a phe­nom­e­non dubbed “sunny day flooding” in places across the U.S. South. Chatham County, home to the low-ly­ing city of Sa­van­nah, uses dozens of sea level sen­sors to track tides and col­lect data for fu­ture city plan­ning. It has also be­gun ask­ing peo­ple to snap pic­tures dur­ing flooding.

“The com­bi­na­tion of the sen­sor data and the pho­tos re­ally helps build out the story — and with that, we hope it will so­lid­ify fund­ing de­ci­sions bet­ter,” said Nick Def­fley, Sa­van­nah’s di­rec­tor of sus­tain­abil­ity.


A man pho­to­graphs waves crash­ing onto the cliffs at Rodea Point in Lin­coln County, Ore. dur­ing an ex­treme high tide that co­in­cided with a big win­ter storm.

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