Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grab Your Waders and Your Camera, and Keep Those Photos Coming!

by Joanna Ekrem, Climate Change Research Analyst

High waters will be flooding our beaches for several days over February 1 to February 3. These seasonal high tides are extreme, but not unusual. What’s unusual this year is the influence of El Nino, which is leading to higher than predicted tides.

The region experienced seasonal high tides in early January. At that time, we asked you to take photos and send them in to us. We got some great shots and a few are represented here! Thank you to all of you who responded. (For more information, see the High Tides page and a slideshow of some of the photos.)

In addition to the citizen science photos you sent us, there are additional reports of the January high tides resulting in coastal flooding on Bainbridge Island (see Seattle PI story). On Camano Island, strong winds, high tides, and heavy rain sent waves crashing through bulkheads and broke through a seawall - (see KOMO news story). In West Seattle, the high tides deluged two wastewater pump stations and resulted in overflows (see West Seattle Herald story).

New Photo Opportunity!

Now we have another opportunity to document these seasonal high tides. Those of you who happen to photograph the high tide events February 1 - 3 are invited to submit your images to the Washington State Department of Ecology. We are interested in using these images to help document the coastal impacts our state is likely to face with increasing frequency as sea levels continue to rise.

In addition, if you’d like to take photos at the same location during a “normal” high tide, for comparison, we’d love to see those, too!!

High tide events will vary by location around the state. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) provides detailed information on tide heights and timing, although these can vary significantly depending on weather conditions. See NOAA tide prediction information for complete information on upcoming high-tide events around the state. The National Weather Service provides specific coastal weather conditions.

Your images can be submitted to, along with the date, time, and detailed location information. Please provide contact information if you'd like us to send you a release form for future publication of your photos.

And if you do take photos, please remember to practice personal safety, especially if there are high waves and winds. Your safety is more important to us than your photos!

Climate Change and Predictions of Sea Level Rise

High tides are expected to become a topic of increased importance in the coming decades as a result of sea level rise attributed to climate change. In the Olympia region, for example, we could see extreme high tide levels similar to those seen in early 2010 ten times per year by 2050 instead of just once or twice per year, based on a medium projection of 6 inches of sea level rise in 2050 for the Puget Sound region. This is expected to intensify flooding of coastal areas, especially during major storms. Rising sea levels also shift coastal beaches inland and increase erosion of coastal bluffs, endangering houses and other structures built near the shore or near the bluff edges. As the sea level rises, coastal freshwater aquifers will be subject to increased intrusion by salt water.

Understanding the future impacts from sea level rise and creating tools and information to assist local governments and the citizens of the state is a priority for Governor Gregoire and the Department of Ecology. A recent executive order signed by the Governor in May 2009 directed the agency to “evaluate the potential impacts of sea level rise on the state’s shoreline areas.”

Governor Gregoire also signed legislation in the spring of 2009 (E2SSB 5560) that included provisions for the formation of an “integrated climate change response strategy” for the state. Ecology and other state agencies will be working closely with stakeholders to develop the strategy, which will better enable state and local agencies, public and private businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals to prepare for, address, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

For additional information and resources on sea level rise and climate change impacts, preparation, and adaptation please see Ecology's Impacts, Preparation, Adaptation Web site.

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