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King tides project documenting a rising sea level future

King tides are the year’s highest and lowest tides, occurring when there is alignment of the gravitational pull between the sun, moon and Earth. California’s coast is seeing king tides this week—with more on the way in December and January—and with them a chance to participate in a statewide science project.

King tides will hit the Central Coast on November 15-16, December 13-15 and January 11-12. They occur naturally during the winter months, and make for a teachable moment.

“King tides are about one-to-two feet higher than an average tide, and it turns out that is about what we expect to see in California in the next few decades from sea level rise,” said Annie Cohut Frankel of the California Coastal Commission.

Frankel manages the California King Tides Project. She says the supersize tides themselves are not evidence of climate change, but they can help raise awareness about the effects of rising sea levels.

“It allows us to look at them and think about what it would be like if the water was this high every single day,” she said.

The project encourages community members to observe and safely take photos then upload them to the California King Tides website.

Frankel says the growing library of photos can then be used by researchers, students and government planners to study the impact of rising sea levels.

“We invite the public to look at how these high tides are impacting our public beaches, our beach access ways, wetlands, roads and other coastal infrastructure,” said Frankel.

She suggests heading to the shore about half-an-hour on either side of high tide.

Mary Ciesinski from the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo or ECOSLO had suggestions for viewing on the Central Coast.

“The Elephant Seals viewpoint in San Simeon would be a great place to go especially because the elephant seals are there right now, so you’ll see the impact of the low tide and high tide,” she said.

She also suggested Tidelands Park in Morro Bay and most anywhere along the north coast of the county.

In Santa Barbara, the Sea Center recommends the base of Stearns Wharf to look for sea stars, crabs and maybe even octopus during low tide.

To upload photos or find more information go to California.KingTides.net or ECOSLO.org

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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