week may provide a glimpse into the future, a look at what our coast
could be as sea level continues to inch up because of climate change.
the planets will line up just right to produce “king tides,” the catchy
moniker for highest tides of the year. They occur each fall and spring.
The first ones this year will be Thursday through Sunday, April
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is partnering with
states and academics across the country in a citizens’ science effort –
the King Tides Project – that’s encouraging people from all walks of
life to go out during these tides and take photos, and sometimes
measurements, and send the photos in to a Flickr account. It began in
2012 in Australia and has since spread around the world.
North Carolina, the effort is through the UNC Institute of Marine
Science in Morehead City. Christine “Chris” Voss, a research assistant,
coordinates the work. It’s a part of a larger NOAA-funded research
project on the ecological effects of sea-level rise, and she says it’s
a natural fit. Voss, who works in the lab of Charles “Pete” Peterson,
said the king tides project mostly just provides and seeks information.
we just want to raise awareness,” she said. “We want people to be aware
of what’s going on around them, to notice what’s happening. People know
what happens in their neighborhoods far better than anyone else. Are
there places where flooding occurs now where it didn’t occur in the
past? Are there changes in the marshes? Do the floods happen more often?
way to gather information is collect photographs of the flooding that
the extreme high tides cause. “That’s what the project is about,” Voss
said. “We want people to be safe when they do it – we don’t want them
to take any chances – but we would love them to take these photos and
send them in. It’s not difficult; almost everyone carries a cell phone
with a camera these days.”
the second goal of the project, Voss said, is to give people an
awareness that what they see in these unusually high tides, caused by
lunar cycles, is quite possibly what we might see as normal if
sea-level rise continues, as most scientists believe it will.
N.C. Coastal Resources Commission requested a 30-year forecast in 2015
after the General Assembly rejected a 2010, 100-year report that
envisioned a 39-inch sea-level rise. Legislators shelved that report
and passed a bill banning state planning for sea-level rise. The
scaled-back 30-year report predicts as little as a two-inch rise along
the southern coast to as much as 10 inches along the northern Outer
of what figures one uses, Voss said, it’s clear that more information
is needed, and that the information gleaned from looking at “king
tides” as a possible scenario for flooding as sea-level rise continues
can help policy-makers.
make better decisions, do better planning, if we have more information
about what could happen,” she said. “We need to know how we might have
to adapt, what kinds of choices we might have to make. There might well
be a time when we have to make hard choices about how we use our land
Flooding of streets and neighborhoods will likely get worse, she said, and will require careful planning to avoid.
still have some time in these places, even very low areas like Down
East Carteret County, to do that planning,” Voss said. “But it’s much
better to look at what might happen than to close our eyes. And the
concept is that the king tides project can help do that.”
last major floods in Carteret County occurred in October 2015, when
those astronomically high king tides, combined with heavy rainfall and
persistent onshore winds, flooded streets in Beaufort and Morehead
City. Water levels rose two to four feet across Eastern North Carolina.
On the northern Outer Banks, Highway 12 was closed at Kitty Hawk
because of ocean over wash and dune breaches. Many streets in and
around downtown Columbia flooded, and water rescues were needed for
people near Hobucken in Pamlico County. Charleston, S.C., had some of
the highest water levels ever, even compared to hurricanes, and
southeastern Florida neighborhoods flooded multiple times.
said she doesn’t expect the king tides this week to be extraordinary.
But the key word is “expect,” because these events in North Carolina
are notoriously hard to predict. North Carolina extreme tides, she
said, are driven more by wind than by lunar phases, and the prevailing
southwest winds of late spring through summer can actually reduce tides
rather than raise them. In fact, she said, some of the lowest tides in
the state can happen in spring. But she’s interested in photos and
measurements of those, too.
more interested in ‘interesting’ events than in just high tides,” she
said. “One thing we hope to be able to do is look at measurements and
photos and sees if we can match them up to meteorology.”
goal, of course, is to increase predictability: If you can see what
weather conditions do to these major tidal events, you can fine-tune
predictions of that might occur, given the conditions, and fine-tune
the actions that people might need to take.
hopes people will get more involved in the king tides project. So far,
she said, participation has been fair, but not what she’d like to see.
It’s pure citizen science, at the grassroots level, she said, and
people have a chance, if they participate, to make a difference.
want to be able to continue this effort for a long time,” she said.
“Right now, it’s funded through 2018, but we’d like to see it last much
“Rudi” Rudolph keeps tabs on tides – king and otherwise – as the
manager of Carteret County’s Shore Protection Office, which is
responsible, among other things, for monitoring the beaches and dunes
and determining when and where beach nourishment projects are along
Voss, he doesn’t expect these king tides to be very extreme, but he
also can’t be sure. With the April 7 new moon, he said, everything –
Earth, moon and sun – “will be aligned as close as they can and in a
straight line. If we have a storm on top of that, then that’s worse,
but not the end of the world I would hope.”
not so sure that it’s all that accurate to look at king tides as a
precursor to the near-term future – this one is expected to be about a
foot higher than usual – but he sees value in the project.
(one foot) would be a heck of a lot of sea-level rise,” he said. “The
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group
under the auspices of the United Nations) doesn’t have us reaching that
much of rise until past 2050 in their worst scenario. However, this is
where the nuisance flooding comes to play. A few inches more of
sea-level rise and the king tides become more problematic.”
research project will have value if it highlights those types of
problems, Randolph said, and educates people about how weather affects
the project can also accentuate that it would be much worse if we have
unfavorable weather conditions in addition to king tides – for example,
a 35 mph northeast wind on April 5-7 – that’s also good,” he said. “If
the project can demystify exactly what a kind tide is, that’s good,
too. It needs to be explained scientifically, so it’s not a mystery.”
story is provided courtesy of N.C. Health News, a website covering
health and environmental news in North Carolina. Coastal Review Online
is partnering with N.C. Health News to provide readers with more
environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along about our coast.
You can read other stories about health care here.)