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Citizen Scientists to Support King Tide Research

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King Tide

A variety of sea surface anomolies or bulges can track across the ocean affecting water levels. These ranges in sea surface can translate into water lapping at your feet at the beach; nuisance flooding affecting businesses, homes and coastal infrastructure (roads or storm drains); large erosion events and loss of property; and ultimately, due to sea-level rise and groundwater penetration, permanent inundation. HI Sea Grant King Tides Project image.

Citizen Scientist volunteers for the University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant College Program are conducting King Tide photo surveys on the Big Island and throughout the state on May 25 and 26.

While tides are the predictable rise and fall of the ocean’s waters, mostly caused by the moon’s gravitational pull, when the sun and moon align, their combined gravitational forces create King Tides.

Elevated water levels and potential flooding are expected through King Tide periods, when some of the year’s highest tides combine with a south swell and ongoing sea-level rise.

According to climate experts, factors are converging to create the epic tides, including “a recent increase in slow-moving, rotating and churning bodies of water— ocean eddies—and the continuing effects of the 2015-16 El Niño.”

The weekend’s King Tides, predicted to be the highest ocean levels in 112 years of record-keeping, will provide a glimpse into future sea-level rise effects in Hawai‘i.


Predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association have tides rising around 2.4 feet higher than average through the weekend. Experts say actual results could exceed this prediction.

Hawai‘i Sea Grant is engaging Citizen Scientists across the Pacific to document these high-water-level events to better understand tomorrow’s impacts from sea-level rise and other coastal high-water events and enhance community capacity to prevent, withstand, adapt to and recover from coastal hazards.

May’s King Tides will mark the third documentation session for the group.

Hawaiʻi-specific projections are in line with global projections of sea level rise with a mean height of 3 feet by 2100. In addition, the existing problems of chronic erosion in Hawaiʻi, which causes beach loss, damages homes and infrastructure, and endangers critical habitat, will likely worsen as sea levels continue to rise, negatively impacting Hawai‘i’s economy.

Thus far, more than 60 Citizen Scientists have contributed over 500 photo records to a free and publically accessible online database. Their data serve as a critical resource for researchers, policymakers and community members across the state and Pacific region to better understand the potential impacts of sea-level rise.


Their photo observations can validate scientific models and forecasts.

The date can be viewed at the public data set and on a web map.

According to the Sea Grant College Program website, “first-person experiences that are place-based and familiar reinforce that climate changes impacts are local in nature and not a distant phenomenon.”

Projections provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and key messages for Hawai‘i and Pacific Islands from the National Climate Assessment indicate sea-level rise will cause more frequent and extreme tidal flooding and inundation by tidally influenced coastal groundwater.

A key message for Hawai‘i and Pacific islands from the National Climate Assessment, with respect to SLR: “Rising sea levels, coupled with high water levels caused by tropical and extra-tropical storms, will incrementally increase coastal flooding and erosion, damaging coastal ecosystems, infrastructure, and agriculture, and negatively affecting tourism.”


Additionally, low-lying islands and atolls will be particularly vulnerable due to their “small land mass, geographic isolation, limited potable water sources, and limited agricultural resources. [SLR] will increase saltwater intrusion from the ocean during storms.”

Hawai‘i Sea Grant uses the free Liquid Mobile Data Collection smartphone application for Apple and Android.

Surveys will also be conducted on June 23 and 24, and July 21 and 22.

To learn how to register for the data set and submit records, download instructions here and watch the video tutorial below.

To learn more about research and initiatives to address coastal hazards, review the other Center for Coastal & Climate Science & Resilience project pages.

To learn more about the Hawai‘i’s climate adaptation efforts, visit the Hawai’i Climate Adaptation Portal.

Hawai‘i Sea Grant is the Hawai‘i and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands project lead as part of the International King Tides Project – Snap the Shore, See the Future.  Explore this interactive StoryMap featuring King Tides projects from around the world.

Unusually Hide Tides Expected to Cause Flooding Along Hawaiʻi Shores

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