How Your Flood Photos Contribute to UNC Research

King Tides are happening more often in North Carolina, and the King Tides Project wants to get a better idea of where they're happing


May 9, 2019 

Nusiance Flooding and Sea Level Rise

Nuisance flooding or what people call “sunny day flooding” is a fact of life. That’s what you’ll hear if you talk with almost anyone living along North Carolina’s coast or along the state’s many large rivers. A few inches of water that occasionally floods streets or yards isn’t that big a deal. But it turns out it just might be a sign of the much larger problem of sea level rise.

How Tides Work

The North Carolina King Tides Project aims to find out. But first, a refresher. Water levels along the coast and along rivers are influenced not only by astronomical tides (gravitational pull of the moon and sun) but also by the direction, speed and duration of the wind and the position and flow rate of the Gulf Stream. Think of how water can get “piled up” by a long-lasting N’oreaster.

The term “King Tide” refers to the highest high tide. It’s a tide that occurs three or four times per year when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth (it's perigee) and the Earth, Sun, and Moon are aligned (that’s alignment is called a Spring tide and it happens every two weeks).

NC King Tides Project Wants Your Photos of Flooding

While floods might happen only a few times per year in the past, flooding is much more frequent now. So researchers at the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences want people to photograph any flooding or high-water events they observe and submit the photos to a special website.

The photos go to a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) database and it’s entered in real time.

“The NC King Tides project is part of an international initiative to photo document water levels,” said Marygrace Rowe, a researcher at UNC-IMS. “We’re using this as a means to prepare people and get people thinking about sea level rise and how it will look in North Carolina.”

Essentially, high water levels from today’s king tides will help people to visualize what future “normal” sea levels along the coast might look like. For more information and to submit photos, visit their website. The NC King Tides Project is funded by North Carolina Sea Grant and Carolina Integrated Sciences and Assessments.

—Frank Graff

 Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.