King Tides on the West Coast

Most people these days know about the effects of climate change. Every day the news reports about the change in weather patterns, the increase of extreme events, changes in snowpack, the retreat of glaciers. The list goes on and on. For the half of the US population that lives on the coast, we hear about sea level rise and coastal inundation and what we might expect for the future.

Still, does the average coastal resident really understand how rising sea levels and coastal inundation will impact them?

(Left) A sidewalk is lost to this King Tide near Rotary Park, Olympia WA. Photo by TallJoyClan, (Right) Water creeps up to mid-sign during a high tide event in La Conner WA. Photo by ConwaySuz

Washington, Oregon, and California are taking proactive steps to make sure that coastal residents, planners, and decision makers alike have the chance to see what sea level rise might look like in their own backyards. It’s called the King Tides Initiative, and every winter brings the opportunity to visualize what a rise in sea level might mean for communities and infrastructure along the West Coast.

The concept began in 2009 in Australia by Phil Watson, the Principle Coastal Specialist of

Park in San Francisco during a large king tide event. Photo by sirgious.

the New South Wales’ Environment Department. They used the term “king tide” to define the high tides that occur when the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon is in alignment. Green Cross Australia continues this initiative, and recently launched a disaster resilience portal Queensland that connects climate awareness with disaster preparedness, working with the research community and advanced Facebook apps to empower people to take tailored steps to address hazard exposure.

These king tides, which take place during the winter along the West Coast, create higher than usual high tides that inundate roads, wetlands, water systems, and more. It’s a stunning preview of what we might experience regularly in the future as a result of rising sea levels.

Seawater almost spilling over this seawall at Alki Beach WA. Photo by dcsdiving.

West Coast states created their own King Tides Initiatives, with regional and local public outreach and education campaigns that ask coastal residents and visitors to photograph high tide events and share them on the photo sharing site Flickr®. By documenting and sharing photos, participants are helping create a living record of vulnerable areas of the coast. Because most photos are licensed under creative commons, they can be accessed and used by anyone. This makes king tide photos a resource for anyone, from teachers to planners to scientists, to communicate the impacts of climate change in a tangible way.

To learn more about the King Tides Initiative in California, I spoke with Marina Psaros, the Coastal Training Program Coordinator for the San Francisco Bay National Estuary Research Reserve.

What has been the biggest impact you’ve seen from the California King Tides campaign?

The king tides initiative is such a simple, powerful way to start a conversation about coastal hazards.  We’ve been able to reach a lot of people who don’t know much about coastal flooding and potential climate change impacts.  We recently held an exhibition of some of the photos at the California Academy of Sciences, and it was amazing to see

Home is inundated in Cairns North Queensland. Photo by Witness King Tides.

people’s immediate, visceral reactions to the images.  Concepts like “tidal inundation” and “sea level rise” are really abstract for most people, but a picture of water slamming up against a well-known landmark is immediately clear.

How can these pictures help us prepare for the future?

These images help engage people on the coast in a conversation about climate change and sea level rise. By participating in king tide events, coastal residents are helping to create a living record of areas that are vulnerable to flooding, and an online resource that can be used by anyone to communicate about coastal hazards. Creating new awareness through social media and other outreach, like the California Academy of Sciences photo exhibition, encourages people to think more proactively about the future of their communities. It also helps decision-makers visualize the impacts sea level rise could have on places where we live, work, and play. 

Can anyone get involved with King Tides?

This hotel on the beach in Yamba New South Wales is lost to a king tide. Photo by Witness King Tides.

 If you have a camera and can get to the coast, yes! Just check your state’s website for king tide events in your area, head out to the coast to take pictures of the king tides, and upload your images to Flickr®. While you’re on the Flickr® site, be sure to check out the rest of the photo pool.  We also encourage people to use these amazing pictures for their own communications – the images are available under a creative commons license. You can also get more information on the initiative through this recent Thank you Ocean podcast: http://www.thankyouocean.org/tag/king-tides/.

NOAA tides gauges and NASA satellites have been recording a global rise in sea level for 150 years.  This rise is linked to a number of atmospheric and oceanic processes; including changes in global temperatures, hydrologic cycles, coverage of glaciers and ice sheets, and storm frequency and intensity. Although high tides are a naturally occurring event, it’s a preview of water levels that climate models show might be a new “normal” in 100 years.

This biker makes his way around the seawater in Mill Valley near Stinson Beach CA. Photo by Yanna B.

The motivation to start talking about hazard mitigation and adaptation is king tide photos of washed out roads, flooded homes, and shrinking beaches. We’ve got a lot to prepare for. Perhaps king tides are nature’s way of giving us a head start.

If you want to be part of the King Tides campaign in your state or province, please visit the following websites to see the schedule of tide events:

Washington King Tides (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/ipa_hightide.htm)

Oregon King Tides (http://www.climateadaptationplanning.net/kingtides/)

California King Tides (http://californiakingtides.org/)

British Columbia King Tides (http://www.livesmartbc.ca/connect/kingtidephotos/)

Australia King Tides (http://www.greencrossaustralia.org/our-work/witness-king-tides-a-community-photography-project.aspx)

Guest Blog: Connecting Ecosystem-Based Projects Along the West Coast

John Hansen, Program Director of the West Coast EBM Network, shares with us his experience at the 2011 West Coast EBM Network annual meeting. Photographs by Alan Lovewell.

The West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network (Network) recently held its 2011 Annual Meeting in Eureka, California.  The meeting brought together local project staff from 10 West Coast communities, representatives from ocean and coastal nongovernmental organizations (NGO)s, Washington, Oregon, Southern and Central California, and California Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health (WCGA), along with a number of local, state and federal staff from the Humboldt Bay area. The meeting took place over two days and included over 60 attendees.

John Hansen and the West Coast EBM Network taking a tour through the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

Early portions of the meeting highlighted the latest efforts taking place in coastal communities along the West Coast, including 10 sites ranging from San Diego to the outer coast of Washington State.  Project staff presented successful ecosystem-based management approaches driven by strong engagement with local stakeholders, including climate change planning, habitat restoration, and supporting local fisheries and working waterfronts, among other topics.  Discussion focused on exchanging local lessons and addressing common challenges, while revealing management experiences for the entire West Coast region.

Christina Holt discusses the National Ocean Policy and the West Coast Governors' Agreement

Following the spotlight on local efforts, presentations were then given by representatives from NOAA and WCGA to provide updates on regional and national-level activities.  NOAA staff summarized the latest activities of the National Ocean Council and the preparation for new regional coastal and marine spatial planning frameworks.  The WCGA Executive Committee updated the group on the latest regional issues along the West Coast, and efforts of WCGA related to broader national-level planning and CMSP.  Finally, the four WCGA Fellows provided a briefing on their respective work plans and ongoing activities related to integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs), climate change and sustainable communities, regional research planning, and a West Coast regional data sharing framework.

Alison Haupt and Kate Skaggs learn about managing the Arcata marshlands

Throughout the meeting, the overlaps between the activities of the West Coast EBM Network and WCGA’s priorities were clearly apparent.  Many local communities throughout the West Coast are directly addressing pressing issues facing their local ecosystems and stakeholders, including preparing for climate change and supporting working waterfronts and local fishing fleets.  These align with the broader goals of WCGA Action Plan and the efforts of the WCGA Action Coordination Teams (ACTs) throughout the three West Coast states.  The activities and expertise housed in the WCGA ACTs were of great interest to the community-level projects at the meeting, and discussions centered on how a stronger connection could be made between the regional ACTs and staff supporting local-level efforts along the coast.

Brian Largay of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation explains the impacts of Spartina on the West Coast wetland environment

On a broader level, the other key lesson taken away from the meeting was the valuable opportunity to grow a mutually beneficial relationship between regional efforts like WCGA and coastal communities.  The WCGA is working towards successful regional approaches throughout the coast, and linking members of their ACTs, on topics that align well with EBM approaches at the local level.  Concurrently, the West Coast EBM Network is working to link coastal communities and successful on-the-ground outcomes, all of which could greatly benefit from a stronger relationship with the WCGA.  Further, local projects may serve as the ideal foundation for regional WCGA efforts, and illustrate the value of enhanced collaboration and planning along the coast through tangible benefits to local stakeholders and communities.

Todd Hallenbeck taking a moment to reflect

The West Coast EBM Network looks forward to continued collaboration with WCGA, including its Executive Committee, ACTs, and Sea Grant Fellows, to highlight the value of this innovative partnership and leverage the benefits to active coastal communities throughout the region.

For more information on the West Coast EBM Network, please visit www.westcoastebm.org.

Supporting Research in the Region with a Network of Ocean Sensors

After a successful WCGA Fellows meeting, Todd, Alison, Suzanna, and I sat together for lunch at Agua Verde on the edge of Lake Union in Seattle to enjoy the Pacific Northwest summer’s delayed arrival.  We were discussing potential blog posts, when slowly an enormous research vessel emerged from under the University Bridge. Its bow towered above us in full view, and we realized it was the University of Washington’s 274-foot research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, returning to port. The mammoth ship dwarfed the numerous kayaks casually paddling by as we contemplated where the vessel was coming from and what it was doing.

The next day I did a little research, and discovered the Thomas G. Thompson had just returned from a very important and successful cruise on the North Pacific dubbed Visions ‘11.

The main purpose of this expedition was to aid the installation of an underwater network of sensors that remotely monitors ocean activity 300 miles off the coast of Washington and Oregon. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, this expedition was a part of a national project called the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI); a collaboration of distinguished marine research institutes to move away from expensive and resource intensive ship-based research towards remote research that can provide real time data for many years.

Utilizing high-power and high-bandwidth fiber optic cables, these underwater observatories, will monitor the chemical, physical, biological, and geological processes between the ocean floor and surface. These remote “nodes” will allow scientists from around the world to conduct real time experiments to help understand deep-sea ocean dynamics. The mission, according to the OOI Science Plan Summary, is to provide practical information for a variety of uses including “fisheries management, maritime shipping and safety, public health, homeland security, tsunami warning, and weather and climate forecasting,” with emphasis on cutting-edge technology to help understand earth-ocean-atmosphere systems.

A map illustrating the size and scope of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (Image OOI)

The research vessel embarked with a crew of scientists, researchers and students interested in exploring underwater volcanoes, vents, and methane hydrate – methane gas locked in ice. Methane hydrate is getting increased attention in the energy sector as a potential fuel source to supply energy for hundreds to thousands of years.  Achievements from the cruise included video of a recent lava flow and a cable inspection captured by an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV)  called ROPOS.  One of the more captivating and bizarre videos the ROV took was of a foam human head and coffee cup slowly being compressed as they descended to illustrate the immense pressure at abysmal depths.

The Thomas G. Thompson with ROPOS taking advantage of calm seas (Image Visions ’11)

The three major organizations  responsible for construction and development are: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography . The University of Washington is responsible for cabled seafloor systems and moorings. The University of California, San Diego, is implementing the interactive infrastructure component. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,  University of Maine and Raytheon Mission Operations and Services, are responsible for education and public engagement software.

The observatory is scheduled to be active by 2014, at which point scientists and students alike can have access to real-time streaming data via the Internet.

The WCGA, and budding marine scientists coast wide, will be paying attention to the West Coast OOI as it unfolds, not only as a partner with the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), a federal, regional, and private-sector partnership working to enhance our ability to collect, deliver, and use ocean information, but for observational data that will inform climate change, ocean acidification, and integrated ecosystem assessments. According to the 2003 National Research Council Report a key finding states “The OOI will greatly improve the ability of operational ocean observing systems such as the Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observing System IOOS and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) to observe and, predict ocean phenomena.” Furthermore, as a significant source for scientific data, it will be important to pay attention to how it connects to our West Coast regional data network that the WCGA is helping develop. The West Coast regional data network would provide access, data standards, prioritize data gaps, and data display formats to existing and future data sources at the local and state scale they are compatible at the regional scale.

Finally, I will leave you all with a poem written on the previous Visions ’05 cruise, to remind us that the scientific accomplishments of these cruises are just one aspect of the many human achievements derived from many long weeks at sea.

Ode to Duct Tape

by Ben Larson

I’m out on the ocean with nothing to do,
But build up my sensors and make them read true.
For this kind of work, I’ve got tools of all kind,
Some nice and normal, some boggle the mind.

I’ve got wrenches and drivers, both Phillips and flat,
Suppliers of power and cables that chat.
There’s tin snips and test clips and drill bits galore,
Connectors, dissectors and meters and more.

I’ve got kite twine and solder and cutters of tube,
And this guck for my o-rings, it’s some kind of lube ,
There’s lithium batteries and green circuit boards,
A funnel in case something needs to be poured.

I’ve got wire and bands, both made of titanium,
Excedrin for the occasional pain in my cranium.
There’s ICL cones and orange spiral wrap,
And computers so small, they fit on your lap.

I’ve got bungee for tying stuff down to the bench,
All manner of screws and a spiffy torque wrench.
There’s plastic zip ties for keeping things neat,
And Fiberglass sleeving, at least 90 feet.

I’ve got cylindrical cases with titanium caps,
And molecular sieves for water mishaps.
There’s sensors for chloride, $3,000 a shot,
Sometimes they work…sometimes not.

I guess you could say that’s a mighty big list,
Yet I can’t help but feel there’s something I’ve missed.
Ah, silly me, That’s it! But of course! ,
More useful than code by a fella named Morse! ,

It’s gray and it’s sticky and one side is shiny,
More than a few times, it’s rescued my hiney.
The sound when it’s peeled makes you jump off your seat,
And the scent that arises, oh what a treat! ,

It works magic and wonders in all kinds of places,
From deep ocean vents to those talkative faces,
Man’s best idea since he came from the ape,
Where would I be without my roll of duct tape.

More poems from this cruise and others can be found here along with a daily log found here.