As king tides splash on Hawaii, citizen scientists are keeping tabs on them

May 31, 2017, 9:12 a.m.

king tide in Hawaii This is a king tide in Maui, Hawaii. (Photo: Ed Romson/Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tide Project)

The tides were high in Hawaii in late May and while that might not seem that notable, researchers say it's a window to the future. Those rising tides could help predict what baseline sea levels could look like in the future.

Citizen scientists worked with Sea Grant’s Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Project to take photos of the Hawaiian coastline on May 25-27. The combination of the year's highest tides and a south swell were expected to combine to create the highest ocean levels in 112 years of record-keeping, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Those high tides even have a name. According to the National Ocean Service:

A King Tide is a non-scientific term people often use to describe exceptionally high tides. Tides are long-period waves that roll around the planet as the ocean is "pulled" back and forth by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun as these bodies interact with the Earth in their monthly and yearly orbits. Higher than normal tides typically occur during a new or full moon and when the Earth is at its perigee, or during specific seasons around the country.

Along with the high tides, coastal areas were expected to flood. The National Weather Service warned, "Beaches that normally remain dry along southern shores could flood due to a combination of wave run-up from the surf and high water levels. Ocean water could also inundate the typical vulnerable low-lying roads, docks, boat ramps and other coastal infrastructure."

More than 60 citizen scientists documented the tides with over 500 photos along the Hawaiian coast. Tides were expected to rise more than 2.4 feet higher than normal.

While the photos are important for visualizing and tracking the tides, the discussion about what's occurring is equally critical, Matthew Gonser, an extension agent with the Sea Grant program, told Civil Beat.

"We hope to engage in this conversation — that is actually really difficult to have — about how rising sea levels impact our locale," he said. "You can’t ignore it."

King tides are expected again in Hawaii June 23-24 and July 21-22, and the citizen scientists will be there to document the moment.