King tides give California coast a taste of warmer, wetter future
THE KING TIDES ARE COMING. Through the end of the week, California will be experiencing its highest tides of the year, the “king” kind, that come around each winter. It may be galactic gravity that’s pulling the water closer, but it looks a lot like climate change! The tides will be as high as +10.1 feet in some places.
“Flooding would be a concern if we had a storm system coming through,” said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey. Instead, the rising water will offer a teachable moment, scientists say. Already, the ocean off California has risen 8 inches in the past 100 years. As the earth warms, polar ice melts, and the warmer ocean water expands, increasing sea level. That rate of sea level rise is accelerating. A National Academy of Sciences report in July found that, relative to sea levels in 2000, the California coast south of Cape Mendocino is projected to experience sea level rise of 1.5 inches to 11.8 inches by 2030, and 4.7 inches to 24 inches by 2050, and 16.5 inches to 65 inches by 2100.
Just because the Golden State won’t have a Sandy-sized catastrophe doesn’t mean there can’t still be a lesson in all this. The Mercury News calls this “a giant science project” but I call it “scaring people into better behavior.” The California King Tides Initiative is collecting citizens’ photos of the tides in an effort to educate the public about what higher sea levels might actually look like.
These photographs help us visualize the impact of rising waters on the California coast. Our shores are constantly being altered by human and natural processes and projections indicate that sea level rise will exacerbate these changes. The images offer a living record of the changes to our coasts and shorelines and a glimpse of what our daily tides may look like in the future as a result of sea level rise. Photos taken during king tide events document impacts to private property, public infrastructure, and wildlife habitat across the state.
For locals still set on taking a long walk on the beach, the king tides also bring extremely low tides in midday, but the California Coastal Commission has a friendly suggestion for the rest of us.
Just a thought … California’s next king tides will hit in 2013: Jan. 9-11 and Feb. 7-9.
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for
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