King tides return to Malibu this Saturday and Sunday mornings

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An aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon from 2012 (left) and 2019 (right) shows the impact of California king tides, and gives an idea of what to expect with future sea level rise. Photo Composite by Bill Parr (left) and Tyler Schiffman. Courtesy of The Inertia.

Local citizen science photographers urged to submit photos to the California King Tides Project

The California King Tides Project — a partnership of the California Coastal Commission, state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations since 2010 — is an annual winter project where citizen scientists volunteer to take photos of the highest high tides of the year, known as king tides. 

The upcoming king tides this weekend in Malibu are one to two feet higher than normal. The first king tide will occur on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 8:09 a.m., at +8.6 feet, and the second on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 8:58 a.m., at +8.53 feet. 

Phyllis Grifman, executive director of the Sea Grant Program at USC, said in an interview, “We’re hoping to rebuild our cadre of picture takers and observers in Malibu. We were on hiatus here for a while, but now we’re back.” She hopes that locals interested in documenting sea level rise with photographs will participate.

Countries all over the world are now documenting king tides in order to get a glimpse of how shorelines will be impacted by sea level rise and climate change in the near future. The extreme tides give scientists an opportunity to study what happens to streets, beaches and wetlands when ocean levels rise another one to two feet.

According to the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, sea level will rise 2 feet by 2100 if efforts are made to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but could rise as much as 7 feet if fossil fuels continue to be burned at the current rate.

Rapid sea level rise could result in beach loss, coastal and intertidal habitat loss, seawater intrusion into the groundwater supply, and flooding or cliff erosion impacts on roads, homes, businesses, power plants, and sewage treatment plants — not to mention toxic waste sites close to shore.

“We also want to raise awareness about how the beach is changing and to receive input from people with eyes on the coast,” said Linda Chilton, education programs manager of the Sea Grant Program at USC. “The extreme high tides have an impact on coastal structures and access.” 

Tide photos taken by volunteers are compiled in an interactive online map; presenting a geographic view of the images. Volunteers can learn how to submit their king tide photos to the project, whether using a smartphone or a camera, by going to https://www.coastal.ca.gov/kingtides/participate.html#upload. Photographers are urged to pick a beach that they care about to document.

“Some of the most powerful images are taken in areas that are subject to flooding and erosion, and places where high water levels can be gauged against familiar landmarks such as cliffs, rocks, roads, buildings, bridge supports, sea walls, staircases, and piers,” the instructions read.

The images that volunteers send in are used by state and local officials and climate change researchers to validate sea level rise models and assess local flood vulnerabilities. The images are also accessible to the public.

“King tide” isn’t a scientific term; it describes a high tide event that occurs several times a year in conjunction with full moon and new moon cycles.

This is the second and last king tide event for this winter season. The first king tides occurred just last month, on Dec. 23 and 24, 2022.

For anyone interested in a free educational and hands-on experience with the king tides, “Heal the Bay” and “Climate Action Santa Monica” invite people to join them for a gathering by the ocean to witness and document the phenomenon on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 1600 at Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, from 8:15 to 10:30 a.m. 

Afterward, everyone is invited inside Heal the Bay Aquarium for educational demonstrations and refreshments. To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/king-tides-science-and-celebration-tickets-476996448217