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Using Social Media to Visualize Future Sea Level Rise in Washington State

Our project engages the public on the idea that sea level is changing and helps them see the change in their own backyard.”

Eli Levitt, Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington coastal resource managers are encouraging residents to take photographs during high winter tide events and share the images using social media. These dramatic photos are building public awareness of the likely effects of sea level rise.

“Building public awareness is such an important step in adaptation planning,” says Eli Levitt, climate impacts analyst for the Washington State Department of Ecology. “Our project engages the public on the idea that sea level is changing and helps them see the change in their own backyard. We also hope it will motivate people to ask themselves, ‘What can I do to prepare my community?’”

The Washington King Tide Photo Initiative encourages members of the public to document the highest winter king tides that occur along the state’s coast from late December through February, and upload the images to a Flickr photo-sharing site. A king tide is an especially high tide that occurs when the sun’s and moon’s gravitational pulls reinforce one another.

More than 260 photos have been uploaded to the Flickr site and show tide-related flooding at areas such as beaches, roads, and parks that are near seawalls, jetties, bridges, or other structures.

During the 2009-2010 winter season, the Washington State Department of Ecology and British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment were the first agencies on the West Coast to set up king tide photo initiatives.

Washington coastal managers begin each photo-taking season by consulting NOAA’s Tide Predictions website for king tide forecasts. The department then solicits involvement of residents through websites, Facebook, blog, and press releases. When posting images to the Flickr site, photographers note the approximate location or use Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates to “geotag” the photos.

By the 2010-2011 winter season, agencies in Oregon and California had set up their own king tide Flickr sites, and the four partners collaborated on a West-Coast-wide photo event.

Levitt thinks the photo-sharing concept could be adapted for other coastal areas as a way to boost public awareness of sea level rise or other hazards such as coastal inundation or storm surge.

“We were fortunate to have media and Web specialists help us here to set up the site. In any case, it’s easy for organizations to build a more simplified site, even if they just have one person doing the work,” says Levitt.

He adds, “This winter, we recorded about 4,000 hits on Flickr, 4,650 hits on the agency’s king tide site, and 20 media stories, so the public awareness benefits are well worth the effort.”


For more information on the Washington King Tide Photo Initiative, contact Eli Levitt at (360) 407-6928 or eli.levitt@ecy.wa.gov.

More on King Tides

Washington King Tide PhotoInitiative

Oregon King Tide Photo Project

California’s Bay Area King Tide Photo Initiative

British Columbia’s King Tide Photo Initiative

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