Monterey – High tide surged to over six feet in Monterey Bay on Wednesday, giving a sneak peek at what rising sea levels might look like along the Central Coast by the end of the century.
“It’s a window into what might be the norm in the future,” said Virginia Guhin, an education coordinator for the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
The surge was part of an annual winter increase known as the king tides. While tides are a normal part of the ebb and flow of the ocean, the swings from high to low get bigger when the earth, moon and sun align just right. King tides are caused when the earth makes its closest approach to the sun while, at the same time, the moon passes closest to earth.
This year, the tides stripped away precious sediment, soaked a parking lot and flooded trails at Elkhorn Slough. It shows that a permanent rise in sea level would be costly for the reserve, Guhin said.
“From a management perspective, we’re already seeing infrastructure impacted once a year because of these tides,” she said.
There can be ecological effects, too, as the strong pull of the tides degrades the reserve. If the sea level is higher, even average-sized tides can cause erosion.
“When that tide pulls out you can see chunks of the mud going with it,” Guhin said. “That’s very valuable ecosystem.”
A group called the California King Tides Project is seeking to raise awareness about rising sea levels by inviting the public to document king tides every year.
“Sea level rise is happening slowly enough that we have the opportunity to get a great preview now and also a great opportunity to plan,” said Marina Psaros, the co-founder of the International King Tides Project and an organizer for the California chapter.
Global sea levels are expected to rise between one and seven feet by 2100, according to projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.N. Much of the water will come from melting glaciers and ice shelves.
The California King Tides Project intends to host a database of local pictures that might aid city and county officials trying to mitigate the effects of a rising ocean. It’s the kind of local effort that the project was created to address, said Psaros.
“The project started out trying to get people to wrap their heads around what sea level rise would look like in their own community,” Psaros said.
At the entrance to the Monterey Marina, the king tides can affect boat traffic.
“It looks like a river going through there,” said Luke Robert, a harbor assistant in Monterey.
When the tide changes from low to high or high to low, water rushes in and out of the marina. The bigger the difference between high and low tide, the bigger the rush, so king tides create an especially strong current.
Even commercial boats can have problems navigating in and out, Robert said. It becomes difficult to steer amid the rush of water. They even have a nickname at the harbor that indicates how dangerous it is to travel in and out of the marina during these surges.
“We actually call the entrance to the marina ‘Jaws’ this time of year,” Robert said.
January’s king tides lasted from Monday to Wednesday.