With record high tides expected through the weekend, Hawaii is getting a preview of what could become the new normal with sea level rise.

The ever-increasing effect of global warming is combining with some of the year’s highest lunar tides and a south swell to produce what are predicted to be the highest ocean levels in 112 years of record-keeping. Volunteers for the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant College Program are taking to the coasts to document the effects.

A group called Citizen Scientists is working with Sea Grant’s Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Project to take photos of coastlines all over the state to record the effects of rising sea levels.

Matthew Gonser, an extension agent with Sea Grant College who works with the volunteers, said this documentation will help make predictions for what the baseline sea level could look like in the future, among other research endeavors.

Matthew Gonser, an extension agent with the Sea Grant program, explains how a volunteer group is documenting rising tides. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

He was working with the volunteers in front of the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki on Thursday afternoon.

Predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have tides rising around 2.4 feet higher than average through the weekend. The average itself has been increasing slowly due to sea level rise tied to climate change, and Gonser said the result over the next couple of days could actually exceed the predictions.

May’s king tides mark the third documentation session for the volunteer group. While their photos are important to visualize and track data, the community conversations that follow will be perhaps the most significant result, Gonser said.

“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.”

Flooding on Ahua Street in Mapunapuna during a king tide Wednesday. Ben Nishimoto/Civil Beat

Factors are converging to create the epic tides, said Philip Thompson, associate director of the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. They include a recent increase in slow-moving, rotating and churning bodies of water, called ocean eddies, and the lasting effects of the 2015-2016 El Nino.

Meanwhile, climate change is producing rising sea levels with no end in sight.

This poses an issue for the coastal areas in Hawaii, in particular, because washed-out beaches hurt tourism and the environment.

Visitors try to steady themselves as a wave crashes against the concrete walkway offshore Ft DeRussy. 25 may 2017
Visitors try to steady themselves as a wave crashes against the concrete walkway offshore Fort DeRussy Beach Park on thursday, May 25, 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Maintaining our beaches and nourishing them will be an ongoing struggle,” Thompson said.

The Citizen Scientists also plan to document the next expected king tides June 23-24 and July 21 and 22.

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