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Upcoming King Tide Offers Preview of Sea Level Rise

December 21, 2015

What will coastal communities look like as the sea level rises with climate change? This week's king tide could offer a preview.

Several groups will be photographing the effects of the extremely high tides expected Wednesday through Friday. They hope it will help communities visualize and prepare for a warming world.

The 10-foot king tide is about two feet higher than normal high tides. Its surging seawater is a natural effect of the moon being closer to the Earth. Experts say it can cause the kind of flooding and erosion that climate models are predicting as average temperatures rise.

Ryan Cruse with the Surfrider Foundation says that's especially true during winter storms.

"Seeing what happens when you've got a 20- to 30-foot ocean swell happening during a king tide could be a good indicator of some of the problems that might arise in the future," he said. "It can be a really sort of visceral way to see what the future might look like."

Surfrider teamed up with the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and the Oregon Coastal Management Program to document these high water events as a way to reveal coastal vulnerabilities to climate change.

They're posting their photos online and building an interactive map of the coast. Organizer Fawn Custer says she hopes the results will help state planners identify infrastructure weaknesses.

"We've already seen some with the heavy duty rains and flooding," she said. "If we look at sea level rise compounding the high water levels of storm surges, they may want to look at where they should allow people to build in the future."

The groups are inviting the public to take before and after photos of the king tide's effect on the coast. However, they advise people to use caution and keep a safe distance from the surf.

They plan to hold several events along the Oregon coast in January to review the photos and discuss the findings.

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A photo of the Oregon coast near Yachats during a king tide.

Courtesy of CoastWatch/Oregon Shores

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