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What could local shorelines look like under rising seas? NC King Tides is working to visualize that

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Nick Santillo
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A drone image of Wrightsville Beach.

King tides correlate with the earth’s position to the moon. Researchers are now using the naturally-occurring events to help visualize coastal areas under future, human-caused sea-level rise. And anyone can participate.

This week marks North Carolina’s first king tide event of 2021. That means now through Friday, Apr. 30, high-tides are at their highest, and low-tides are at their lowest compared to other times during the year.

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Hannah Breisinger
Wrightsville Beach at high tide, during the Monday, Apr. 26 king tide event.
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Hannah Breisinger
Wrightsville Beach at high tide, during the Monday, Apr. 26 king tide event.

On Monday, April 26, at 7:30 PM, I get in my car. I drive to Wrightsville Beach — and at 7:42 PM — peak high-tide — I snap a picture.

The next day — Tuesday, the 27th — I do the same thing, at the same spot. But it’s now 2:33 PM: peak low-tide.

*audio of camera shutter*

That’s the general gist of the King Tides Project. The international initiative is asking for the public to help document extreme tidal events using photos. All you have to do is download the Coastal Observer app, snap some pictures at high or low tide, and, in turn:

“...those extra high water level events help us actually visualize what future sea-level rise with higher water levels will look like.”
Christine Voss

That’s Dr. Christine Voss, a Research Scientist at the UNC Institute of Marine Studies. Voss explains that the project is always looking for shoreline photos, but king tide events are extreme:

“We see it in our coastal towns, where water comes up the storm drains right up into the streets, and people will drive through it, not realizing they’re driving their cars through saltwater.”

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Hannah Breisinger
Wrightsville Beach at low tide, during the Tuesday, Apr. 27 king tide event.
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Hannah Breisinger
Wrightsville Beach at low tide, during the Tuesday, Apr. 27 king tide event.

And as a result, king tide photos paint a more interesting picture than normal images. For example, when I took my high-tide photo, the water level was around 5.3 feet. NOAA predicts that by the end of the century, the global mean sea level could likely rise at least 1 foot from levels in the year 2000. That’s even if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced in coming decades.

So, it’s possible that in a few years or decades, my abnormally-high high-tide photo could look like an ordinary day at Wrightsville Beach. And king tide events in the future could have more serious implications than a fun photo opportunity.

Get Involved

  • For instructions on how to take your photos, click here.
  • For instructions on how to share your photos using the Coastal Observer app, click here.
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NC King Tides Project
North Carolina's king tide calendar for 2021.