Visualizing Higher Sea Levels with King Tides

It has been told that there was a year when BPC’s Annual Members Meeting and Luncheon fell on the same day as a king tides day, and that the view of these tides, seen from the St. Francis Yacht Club, was quite a sight to see. Unfortunately, our Luncheon missed the mark by just a few days this year. No matter, this week BPC set out to see the king tides up close and personal.

In short, the term “king tide” is used to describe an especially high tide, or “the highest predicted high tide of the year at a coastal location”. They occur naturally and regularly, but only for a short time each year. This year, the king tides in San Francisco Bay occurred on December 13th and 14th. BPC went out to Coyote Point in San Mateo on December 14th to hear a presentation from San Mateo County on how king tides are being influenced by rising sea levels in the Bay Area. Although incremental changes in sea level may be difficult to see, and vary depending on where you are along California’s coast, king tides give us an idea of what a permanently higher sea level may look like on the shoreline.

Coyote Point Recreation Area in San Mateo, CA

Coyote Point Recreation Area in San Mateo, CA

Having only previously seen photos of the king tides in the Bay Area, I expected to see more dramatic waves than those captured here. While set in San Francisco instead of San Mateo, last year’s king tides were visibly more powerful, as described in this article. The article also goes on to say that although the tides were not especially impressive this year, we need to take into account the warmer temperatures that were present during last year’s king tides. These warmer temperatures, due to the winter’s El Niño event, raised the water level approximately six inches.

Northwest side of Coyote Point Recreation Area at approximately 11:30 am.

Northwest side of Coyote Point Recreation Area at approximately 11:30 am (high tide).

The issue of sea level rise has gained attention both nationally and locally here in the Bay Area. Though projections vary throughout Northern California depending on where you are, some projections anticipate as much as 66 inches of sea level rise by the year 2100.

Higher sea levels are likely to impact critical infrastructure, valuable habitat, and businesses along the shoreline. San Mateo County, for example, recognizes  such threats and has started an effort to identify vulnerable assets on the Bay and on it’s shoreline as part of it’s long-term resiliency strategy to ensure the County is prepared for climate change.

Parking lot on northwest side of Coyote Point Recreation Area that will need to be pushed back for higher sea levels.

Parking lot on northwest side of Coyote Point Recreation Area that will need to be pushed back for higher sea levels.

BPC recognizes that sea level rise is an issue that requires region-wide discussion and cross-sector collaboration. We will continue to work with and for our members to ensure we are a part of the conversation as the region moves forward in addressing climate change effects such as this.

Want to see the king tides for yourself? The king tides are coming back around on January 10th, 11th, and 12th. Check out the California King Tides Project for times and locations in the Bay near you.

“The Bay Planning Coalition is a non-profit organization well known for its advocacy and credibility in the San Francisco Bay Area corporate and environmental community. When we speak about an issue, legislators and regulators listen.” – John A. Coleman, CEO