King Tides Project Rising this Winter

Siuslaw watershed during the most recent king tide.\Photo by Rena Olson, with aerial support from Lighthawk.
Siuslaw watershed during the most recent king tide.\Photo by Rena Olson, with aerial support from Lighthawk.

The King Tides Project is now in the midst of its 11th year.  To borrow a line from a certain TV show, winter is coming!  And with it comes the highest of high tides, which the project seeks to document.  This citizen science effort is organized by CoastWatch and the Oregon Coastal Management Program.

The first round of this year's project took place in November.  Here are the remaining dates for the 2020-2021 version of the project, through which volunteer photographers capture the reach of the year's highest tides, revealing current vulnerabilities to flooding while providing a preview of sea level rise due to climate change:

December 13-15, 2020

January 11-13, 2021

No need to wait for these dates, however.  The project is placing new emphasis on comparison shots--photos taken from the same spot at the high point of a comparatively normal high tide, to be contrasted with the same view at the high point of a king tide.  Volunteer photographers are encouraged to start now in finding good locations (or ones they've used before) and taking photos during typical tide sequences, anticipating the comparisons to be made with this year's coming peak tides.  (Note that the comparison is high tide to high tide, not low tide to high tide.  If you do take such comparison shots, hang onto them until November--or whenever you take photos during the king tide sequences--and submit them together.)

Looking back, we had a successful King Tides Project for winter, 2019-2020.  The three sets of extreme high tides we  documented took place Nov. 25-27, Jan. 10-12, and Feb. 8-10. There was also a "bonus Christmas round" Dec. 24-26.  The King Tides Project always focuses formally on the three highest tide sequences each winter.  In 2019-2020, there were four major high tide series, so we skipped the one conflicting with the holidays, although photos of the high tides on those days have been included along with those taken during the three "official" rounds in the project's photo archives.

Some of this year's photos can be seen on the project's special Flickr site, and we will soon be adding more and providing more information about them.  Last year, volunteer photographers Rena Olson and Alex Derr were provided with a Lighthawk flight to photograph the effects of the king tide on the Siuslaw and Alsea drainages from the air, and we are sharing those photos as well.

For the past decade, CoastWatch has collaborated with the state's Coastal Management Program (a branch of the Department of Land Conservation and Development) to sponsor Oregon’s contribution to this international citizen science initiative.  (The project originated in Australia, where these highest tides of the year are known as “king tides,” so the term is now used for the project around the world.) Through the King Tides Project, photographers trace the reach of the year’s highest tides, showing the intersection of the ocean with both human-built infrastructure (roads, seawalls, trails, bridges) and natural features such as cliffs and wetlands.  Anyone capable of wielding a camera can participate.

To see the work of the dozens of volunteer photographers who contributed to the work during the past winter's project, and from previous years as well, see this special Flickr site.

Documenting the highest annual reach of the tides tells us something about areas of the natural and built environments which are subject to erosion and flooding now. It tells us even more about what to expect as sea level rises. Photographs of any tidally affected area—outer shores, estuary, or lower river—are relevant.  The ideal would be to document the high-tide point everywhere on the coast.  However, photos of spots where the extreme tidal reach is particularly apparent, inundating built or natural features, are most striking, and most clearly depict the future effects of sea level rise.

For more information on the project and how to participate and post photos see the project’s website,  Participants can post photographs online through this site. Be prepared to include the date, description and direction of the photo. An interactive map is available that will assist photographers in determining the exact latitude and longitude at which a photo was taken.   Photos can also be posted to social media (Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter) and tagged #orkingtides.

For information about the project and how to get involved, contact Jesse Jones, CoastWatch's volunteer coordinator, at (503) 989-7244, [email protected].