What Does Sea Level Rise Look Like? King Tide 2018

It was a foggy December 4 morning. Luckily, the King Tide was at noon, allowing plenty of time for the fog to burn off.  For the third year, The Wetlands Conservancy partnered with LightHawk to photo document flooded areas at their maximum tidal height. Under blue sunny skies, TWC coastal steward Paul Engelmeyer and volunteer Ian Fergusson flew over the Yaquina, Beaver Creek and Alsea estuaries with Light Hawk volunteer pilot Lane Gormley. Esther Lev and Stan van de Wetering of the Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians flew with Light Hawk pilot Jane Rosevelt over the Siletz and Salmon River estuaries.

Every year in early winter, high tides are higher than usual. These extreme high tides, commonly called “King Tides,” occur when the moon is closest to the Earth. These unusual tides provide a great tool to visualize how estuaries may respond to rising sea levels. Understanding the impacts of these tides is essential as today’s king tides could be tomorrow normal tides.  Estuaries have a unique balance of fresh water and saltwater and support a diverse wildlife community.  These rich feeding grounds are essential for juvenile salmon, oyster, crab, shorebirds and other marine life. The current prediction of sea level rise will flood the salt marshes and mud flats more often and at greater depths, which may directly impact the life cycles and use of these areas by fish and wildlife. With sea level rise, the salt marshes and mud flats could be permanently underwater or develop a severe increase in salinity, which could change the current biodiversity.

Visually understanding these possible changes allows scientists, landowners and communities to think to the future on how to plan for the need to increase the breadth of these ecosystems.

The Wetlands Conservancy is using The King Tide photos to update our coastal preserve management plans. Our management plans serve as a road map and guide for preserve conservation activities and management. The photos help us identify and monitor potential areas that will be influenced by changes in tidal heights, salinity and subsequent variations in vegetation community locations and composition. The visual of these flooded estuaries captured in the photos provides a powerful tool to encourage community dialogue on the future of our estuaries and the plants, fish and wildlife that depend on them.

The King Tide photos will be used in development of TWC and The Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indian’s Lower Siletz Wetland Conservation Plan.

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