Now Playing:


Water | Environment

King Tides Offer a Chance to See a Climate-Changed Future

WASHINGTON — Over the next few weeks the Puget Sound will rise above its normal banks. Higher than usual tides will flood estuaries and lap at drives along the Oregon and Washington coasts. Waves are likely to crash against buildings built along the waterways in Olympia and Seattle.

Today marks the beginning of what’s called the king tides season. King tides are higher-than-usual tides that occur when the sun and moon’s gravitational pull reinforce one another.

After a few weeks, the tides will return to their normal ebb and flow.

But what if these high tides were normal all the time?

In a few decades, they likely will be.

Experts from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group have predicted that by 2050 Washington state will see sea levels rise by 6 inches (pdf of their sea level rise report). And the seasonal king tides offer a glimpse of how rising sea levels from global climate change could affect the state’s coastal areas.

“In many ways this is a teachable moment,” said Curt Hart, communications manager at the Washington state Department of Ecology. “Anecdotally we’re hearing that people have never seen tides this high. These tides are showing us what could we see in the future in terms of sea level rise.”

That’s why the Washington state Department of Ecology started an initiative that encourages people to go out and photograph these seasonal tides. This is the third year they’ve been gathering photos of king tides throughout the state. They now have hundreds of photos, which can be viewed on the Washington King Tide Photo Initiative Flickr Group.

Similar photo initiatives are taking place in Oregon , British Columbia, and San Francisco. In fact, the first king tide photo effort began in Australia in 2009 after scientists recorded the highest king tides in more than 18 years.

As global temperatures rise, the oceans are expected to warm and expand. Ice caps and glaciers will melt, and more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. The Washington Department of Ecology reports that sea level rise and could affect Pacific Northwest marine areas by:

  • intensifying flooding, especially during high tides and major storms,
  • shifting coastal beaches inland,
  • increasing coastal bluff erosion,
  • endangering houses, roads, seawalls and utilities that are built near the shore, and
  • threatening coastal freshwater and underground water supplies.

“When we talk about climate change, it usually means reading a report or hearing about numbers and statistics,” Hart said. “But this photo initiative gets people out into the world to see what the new normal could look like.”

King tides can be seen in the Washington and Oregon region this weekend, as well as in mid-January. Dates will vary slightly depending on location. To find the exact dates and times to view the king tides, click on the regions of the maps below.

View Washington Coast King Tides Winter 2011-2012 in a larger map

View Oregon King Tide Predictions Winter 2011-2012 in a larger map

More News

More OPB