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Climate Change: King tides and sea level rise

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View KingTide in a larger map

 “King Tides” are naturally occurring higher-than-normal tides (in the case of the Harbor Estuary, approximately 1-2 feet higher than an average high tide, though other factors such as wind or storm surge can affect that height). This event is caused by the moon’s closest orbit around the earth (perigee) coinciding with the alignment of the sun, the moon, and the earth (new moon) in a way that maximizes the gravitational pull on the earth’s oceans. Learn more… Tides are likely to be higher all over the world. However, other factors such as wind, storms, position on the earth, and the shape of the bathymetry, or ocean floor, can affect how big and when they occur.

King Tides are not related to climate change. They can, however, give us a sense of what future sea level rise might look like. Scientists project that in New York, sea level may rise 7-12 inches by the 2050s and 12-23 inches by the 2080s. In other words, what we are seeing today as an unusual event, we are likely to see as a frequent, or even daily, high tide, in the next 40, 50, 70 years.

Beginning in 2011, in collaboration with other National Estuary Programs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate-Ready Estuaries office, friends of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program and Long Island Sound Study began to document the King Tide through photos. See a larger map of these photos…

Storm surge mapping in New York City depicts areas that may susceptible to storms and higher sea levels (OASIS).

The Gowanus Canal areaClick Here for the live OASIS Map

Check out the following video for a little more introduction to the King Tide (from Green Cross Australia):

Click Here to view this video on YouTube

Photos taken during the May 16-18, 2011 event:

Brooklyn Bridge: the first photo below was taken approximately 20 minutes before the predicted high tide on the 17th. Despite the night-time conditions (when compared to a mean high tide in the second, on June 5th), you should be able to note the position of the floating ramp in the left of the shot, in relation to the static pier in the right. In the second photo, you will notice that the floating ramp is much lower.

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan Bridge: On the stairs underneath the Manhattan Bridge, Rob captured these at high tide, which were then followed up with some mean tide shots for comparison.

Manhattan Bridge
Manhattan Bridge

Passaic River: Christopher Brooks captured these low-lying structures in the Kearny area. It should be noted that these photos were taken at 11:00 a.m. (one hour after the lower of the two high tides at 9:45, NOAA Belleville Station) on the 18th, a day after the King Tide event. Though these photos do not suggest the full king tide, they are comparable to mean high tides in the area at 6.2 feet. The height in relation to these structures should be watched as we try to document the October King Tide event.

Passaic River

Passaic River

Bronx Kill: similarly, Rob Buchanan and Jack Gilman documented the high and low extremes relative to the Bronx Kill Conduit on the day after the king tide event (the 18th). These sites should be revisited during the October event.

Bronx Kill

Bronx Kill

Bronx Kill

Bronx Kill


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