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Home / Articles / Culture / Inside a Whale's Vagina /  California ...
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Tuesday, Feb 07, 2012

California King Tides Initiative: San Diego’s sinking—let’s take pictures!

You can help document the effects of sea-level rise

By D.A. Kolodenko
dakolodenko D.A. Kolodenko

If you’ve ever run for your life from a tsunami—like I did in December of 2004, which I’ve written about in CityBeat more than once, and which still haunts me, and about which, yes, I am still mildly obsessed, so deal with it—then you’ve peered into the future of coastal life in all its global-warming glory.

The Earth is a ball of water that’s heating up, and as it heats, it expands. Also, big chunks of ice like Greenland and Antarctica melt and add to the rising sea levels. Carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have accelerated the rising of sea levels over the last few decades. Every legitimate scientific organization in the world says this is happening, so if you don’t believe it, be careful that when you take your head out of the sand it isn’t already underwater. The California Ocean Protection Council estimates a sea-level rise of more than a foot by 2050 and four to five feet by 2100 along our coast.

After the tsunami in Thailand, when I returned to my Ocean Beach cottage, which sits a couple hundred feet from the shore, I couldn’t open my blinds for weeks. I was even thinking of giving up the ocean view and moving to somewhere drier, like, say, Julian. But I’m still here, and now when I gaze at the sea from my bedroom window, it embodies new fathoms of depth. For example, I sometimes contemplate what to do when the big earthquake hits—like ride my bike up the hill to Point Loma with a backpack containing family photos, birth certificate, passport, laptop and Cliff bars. Why the passport? That’s for the following day’s escape to Baja to get as far away from San Onofre as possible.

Given humanity’s widespread reluctance to take action on global warming, there will likely come a time long after you and I are gone that my cottage will be as underwater as the head of a global-warming skeptic, and other way-worse things will have gone down. At that time, future people in the privileged, non-cannibal sectors will no doubt take interest in retrospective histories of the dying planet, including detailed displays of what the shorelines looked like as they shrank over time.

As a coastal city dweller, you might want to get in on the ground floor of helping document this eventuality for the amusement of the Last Generation, and now’s your big chance. The day this column hits your coffeehouse or computer marks the final day of the final three winter days of king tides. Feb. 6 through 8, “some of the year’s highest tides will hit California shorelines, providing a glimpse of what the state can expect as sea levels rise in the coming years,” the California Coastkeeper Alliance (CCA) explains.

CCA is one of several state and federal agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, that joined last winter to launch the California King Tides Initiative. The local effort is part of a growing campaign worldwide to create a photographic record of sea-level change.

The initiative asks the public to get involved by photographing high tides in local seaside communities during king tides in order to reveal how “homes, harbors, and other infrastructure, as well as beaches, wetlands, and public access to the coast may be affected by sea level rise in the future.” predicts high tides around 6.5 feet for the king-tide mornings, with lower tides at night. The morning tide on Thursday, Feb. 9, is supposed to be more than 6 feet and could still provide some good picture-taking opportunities.
I plan to cruise around O.B. during the king-tide mornings, documenting early hints at the future destruction of my neighborhood, but there are even better spots to document. The initiative is asking folks to photograph morning high tides in the following areas: San Diego Bay, Oceanside Beach, San Elijo Lagoon, Del Mar Dog Beach / San Dieguito Entrance, Torrey Pines, La Jolla Shores and Mission Beach.

If you’d like to take pictures for the initiative, they recommend that you note the time, date, location and orientation of your photographs. If you have a phone or camera with geolocation service, turn it on in order to capture the longitude and latitude of your shots. Second, if you can go back to the same spots during low tide, contrasting imagery can be a powerful visual reflection of the more dramatic “before” and “after” that awaits our shores. Third, the initiative suggests that some of the most powerful imagery can be taken in areas subject to erosion and flooding, or where water levels can be gauged against familiar landmarks like roads, piers, rocks, cliffs, sea walls and so forth.

When you’ve got your pictures, post them (or view others’ images) at You can find out more about the California King Tides Initiative at, and for more information, contact Sara Aminzadeh of the California Coastkeeper Alliance at

Some might suggest that these images could help raise awareness of the problem of global warming, and even help lead to a rising tide of action to reduce deforestation and consumption of fossil fuel. Wouldn’t that be awesome? At the very least, I’m delighted to make a contribution to the museum at the end of the world.

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