When it comes to dealing with the rising sea level, organizations have discovered that they can be much more productive with help from the public. Coastal organizations in both Oregon and Rhode Island have turned to citizen scientists to help gather photographic evidence of king tides.
“Every year in early winter, high tides in Oregon are higher than usual,” explained Meg Reed, coastal shores specialist of the Oregon Coastal Management Program. “These extreme high tides, commonly called king tides, occur at a few specific times during the year when the moon’s orbit comes closest to the Earth, the Earth’s orbit is closest to the sun, and the sun, moon and earth are in alignment, thereby increasing their gravitational influence on
While tides are a natural occurrence, their increasing encroachment on coastal lands is causing many problems. High water levels can lead to increased erosion on beaches, create vulnerable structures and infrastructure and produce dangerous beach areas.
Some coastal communities also experience flooding during king tides.
“The city of Nehalem experiences frequent flooding along their downtown corridor, which impacts travel and access to the main highway, Highway 101,” explained Reed. “Agricultural lands along the Coquille River or Tillamook Bay also experience frequent flooding during high tides or heavy rains.”
King tides play a very special role in research in the future. These tides show proof of which areas are vulnerable to flooding, which could occur regularly in the future due to rising sea levels. What occurs as seasonal flooding now, may be the norm in years to come.
“The goal of this citizen science project is to encourage Oregonians and visitors to submit photos they take of the king tides to help track sea-level rise over time and its impacts on the Oregon coast,” said Reed. “Anyone can participate by taking a photo during peak king tide with reference to a man-made structure or natural feature and submitting that photo through our website (www.oregonkingtides.net).”
These photos allow everyone to see the change in coastal areas during king tides. In addition, the photos provide a sneak peek at what the rise in sea level may look like in the years to come.
“Oregon’s king tide photos have been used by agencies and researchers to ground truth important scientific models that are used to estimate where the high waters will reach and how they will impact the places we love,” said Reed. “This helps build trust and validate our understanding of what our coast will look like under changing conditions. A picture is worth a 1,000 words, and king tide photos highlight how a rising sea or increased storm surge may impact familiar places in our communities.”
When it comes to municipalities doing their part to react to king tides and flooding, Reed stresses the importance of land use regulations.
“Land use regulations are an important component to decrease impacts to coastal development, such as appropriate oceanfront or riverine setbacks, moveable development and stormwater management,” said Reed. “Additionally, protecting open space, vegetative buffers and migration zones for wetlands are also important considerations for areas particularly prone to flooding or erosion and other climate change impacts. Planning for coastal hazards and sea-level rise impacts now will help to decrease haphazard and reactionary management decisions in the future.”
The Rhode Island King Tides Initiative is a similar program being conducted on the opposite side of the country. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council created the MyCoast app in 2014 when the Northeast Ocean Council received a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“With the app, we have lots of eyes on the ground when a high tide event is predicted,” explained Janet Freedman, coastal geologist for the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. “This gives us a look at what areas actually flood and under what tide conditions. It also gives us a glimpse into what will be happening much more frequently as sea levels rise.”
Notices are sent out through the app and its associated website when king tides are predicted. From there, citizens can prepare themselves to take and submit photos of the high tides in their area.
The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Council can then access photos along with the embedded metadata, which includes tide height, weather, wind speed and direction. From there, this information is compared to STORMTOOLS data, which provides insight on flood risks.
“This gives us a way to ground truth the sea level rise inundation models,” said Freedman. “In addition, it helps identify areas that are at risk and develop coastal resilience or adaptation plans targeting these places.”
Municipalities in the Rhode Island area are encouraged to use the MyCoast website to see where the flooding is in their community. They can also encourage their citizens to get involved with the initiative, to provide useful photographic evidence of the local effects of flooding.
“It is a glimpse into the future that hopefully will give them time to plan for a more resilient coast,” said Freedman.
When it comes to taking the information and doing something to counteract the flooding, communities could look into elevating roadways, assessing wastewater treatment facilities or moving structures out of the areas that will be permanently flooded in the future.
Freedman acknowledges that all these actions take a large amount of funding, but the MyCoast data could be used to show that these steps are necessary.
“These all take time and money so a sneak preview could be helpful for planning and community buy-in,” said Freedman.
And thanks to the hard work of citizen scientists throughout the coastal states, there’s plenty of photographic evidence available to help back up the need for these changes.