What Does Sea Level Rise Look Like?

Every year in early winter, high tides in Oregon are higher than usual. These extreme high tides, commonly called “King Tides,” occur when the moon is closest to the Earth. These unusual tides are a great tool to understanding how estuaries may respond to rising sea levels and setting restoration goals for TWC estuarine preserves in the future. John Bauer of The Wetlands Conservancy spent a day flying along the north coast with volunteer pilots from Light Hawk taking high-resolution aerial photos to capture the flooded areas at their maximum height.

Estuaries are the mixing zones of freshwater and saltwater, they occur where our water ways meet the ocean. These rich feeding grounds are essential for juvenile salmon, oyster, crab, shorebirds and other marine life. As the photos demonstrate, 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.

Understanding and visualizing the potential changes allows scientists, landowners and the community to begin to plan for the future. For example, how to prepare for the prospective loss of habitat, impact on commercial fisheries, and flooding of roads and properties.

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 for the next five years. 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 provide a powerful tool to encourage community dialogue on the future of our estuaries and the plants, fish and wildlife that depend on them.

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