King tides: a "teachable moment?"

Feb 22, 2011

Shorelines around Washington are experiencing extreme high tides through the end of the month. Known as “king tides,” they’re a natural wintertime phenomenon in the Northwest. But they may also provide a glimpse into our future.

King tides are caused when the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun reinforce each other to create the highest tides of the year. Shorelines along Puget Sound are experiencing king tides for the next few days. Areas along the Pacific coast saw theirs late last week.

Curt Hart – with the state Department of Ecology – says even these tides are predictable, they can be destructive.

“We've seen flooded parking lots, we've seen structures that are right along the shoreline, that are maybe in low-lying areas, and during storms these can be inundated."

A king tide caused flooding in downtown Olympia a few years ago. Hart says that got city officials thinking about Olympia’s vulnerability to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Researchers at the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group project six inches of sea level rise or more by 2050.

Ecology is inviting the public to take photos of king tide events. The agency has a Flickr page where people can post images. Hart says seeing how high the water can get can be what he calls "a teaching moment."

"It really does give a compelling glimpse of how sea level rise from global climate change could affect us here in Puget Sound as well as out outer coast."