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Public photos assist coastal policies: King tides illustrate future sea level rise effects
December 30, 2013, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

The complex scientific data behind the effects of projected sea level rise can be hard for many to accurately envision so the California Coastal Commission is seeking the public’s help illustrating vulnerability of the shoreline including spots in San Mateo County.

Starting today, the shoreline will experience some of the year’s highest tides, said Hilary Papendick, program analyst for the California Coastal Commission which created the California King Tides Initiative to involve the public in future studies of sea level rise.

“King tides are extreme high tides that occur a couple times a year when the sun and moon are in alignment,” Papendick said.

Citizens can contribute to the initiative’s efforts by chronologically photographing the coastline during king tides and posting them on the California King Tide website, Papendick said.

King tides raise the sea level by nearly a foot and can lead to beaches, trails, roadways, wetlands and infrastructure becoming flooded.

The effects of king tides can be seen in the San Francisco Bay, at Surfer’s Beach in Half Moon Bay, at Rockaway Beach and the pier in Pacifica and along the entire California coastline. Parts of Highway 1 are also known to flood during king tides, Papendick said.

King tides typically arrive in June during the evenings and during the day in winter. The California coast will experience the winter king tides Dec. 30 to Jan 2 and Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, Papendick said.

Imagining sea level rise can be abstract when only studying numerical data or reading about the effects. However it seems more tangible when people see images of flooded infrastructure or submersed wetlands, Papendick said.

“The images are very powerful when it comes to talking about what future conditions could look like,” Papendick said. “Seeing these photos today could help people decide how to plan for the future.”

Although king tides are not directly linked to sea level rise, the effects are indicative of what can be expected in 2050 when the sea level is projected to have raised by one foot, Papendick said.

“Essentially, the tides are not related to sea level rise. But overtime, sea levels are rising and this is a way to show what it could look like in the future,” Papendick said.

California’s king tide photograph initiative began in the Bay Area in 2010; however, by the end of winter people were participating statewide. By getting the public involved, the commission is able to gather critical information that will assist in outlining future planning, Papendick said.

“It’s really useful for validating flood models; having people go out year after year and take photos in the same places can be used for data,” Papendick said.

On Oct. 14, the Coastal Commission released a draft of its new Sea-Level Rise Policy, a document providing guidance for local governments on incorporating the science behind it when planning for future development, Papendick said.

The draft is open for public comment through Jan. 15 and the data gathered through the king tide initiative will be added to the second draft, Papendick said.

The photographs and statewide participation encouraged by the king tide initiative raises awareness about the potential effects of sea level rise and contributes to public policies aimed at sustaining coastal resources, Papendick said.

“With the power of citizens and the public, we’re able to capture the data from the entire state in just a couple days,” Papendick said. “It’s really data we wouldn’t be able to get without public participation.”

For more information about the California King Tides Initiative or to submit photos visit

For more information about the California Coastal Commission visit



Tags: papendick, tides, level, california, coastal, public,

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