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What is a King Tide

In the context of global climate change, one major event that represents cause for concern is called a King Tide. Although not a particularly scientific term, king tides are caused by many factors deeply rooted in science.

King tides are essentially extreme tidal movements that are caused by the relationship between the sun the earth and the moon. On a regular day here in Newport Beach, California, the tide will come in and go out twice per day.

Today, on January 21, 2019, there was a King Tide.

What exactly does that mean? Well. Instead of me explaining a bunch of scientific jargon, I'll just show you!

Below are some side by side comparisons of the high and low tide seen today.

In today's case, high tide was at 8:45am and low tide was at 3:45pm. So in the span of about 7 hours, the ocean went from 6.2 feet above mean sea level to -0.3 feet below mean sea level.

High Tide

High Tide

Low Tide

Low Tide

High Tide

Low Tide

High Tide

Low Tide

So why is this a big deal?

If you'll notice in first two the photographs, the water level at high tide is very close to the palm tree that is in the background, but has receded by a long distance by low tide. During king tides, the salt water from the ocean inundates the shoreline and can cause the death of plant species and can destroy habitat that is not tolerant of salt water. But bigger concerns are found when the high tide gets to be higher than the sea walls that surround the islands in the harbor. King tides represent a great way to study sea level rise and how it may affect the socioeconomic and environmental conditions near coastal cities.

If the tide gets any higher, there will be flooding and massive property damage. Thankfully, in today's case, we had a beautiful day with no extra pressure from inclement weather. If, however, in the future, there were to be a king tide and a storm on the same day, we could expect significant damage and flooding to occur.

King tides are a great way to see the physical differences that can occur in estuaries around the world. During low tide, an area of land called the mud flat is exposed which allows for birds to nest in areas that are undisturbed by people. When high tide comes in and covers the mud flats with water, these bird nests are destroyed or flooded. So sea level rise has direct consequences for animals that live in close proximity to the ocean.

Although my photos do show significant changes in tidal movements, I was only one of many people stationed around the bay to document the tidal shift. The hope is that we can show changes to sea level with photographic evidence that will allow cities like Newport Beach to plan for the future and the inevitable sea level rise that will be occurring over the next few decades. Once the photos from other contributors are published, I will link this article the that study so you can see other perspectives from around the bay!

As always, I hope that this post has taught you something!

-Kevin Bolland

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