Scientists Seek Citizen Help to Map Nov. 5 King Tide Sea Levels

The Hampton Roads region of coastal Virginia is prone to flooding during especially high tides. Roberto Westbrook/Blend Images/Getty Images

On Nov. 5, 2017, a king tide — the courtly name for the highest astronomical tide of the year — will put low-lying areas in coastal Virginia underwater. Now, scientists are asking people in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to use a purpose-built app to track the tide, which is expected to peak 2 feet (0.6 meters) above normal sea level. The goal is to develop a model that will help map rising sea levels.

The rising sea level brought on by a king tide is morphing from an annual anomaly to the new normal. Scientists predict that by 2050, many parts of Hampton Roads and other coastal regions will be underwater year-round, as tides continue to rise the world over.

Virginia's Hampton Roads is on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, where the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth rivers converge at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. As the 33rd-largest metropolitan area in the U.S., it provides an ideal model to illustrate the impact rising sea levels will have on populated areas.

To capture the tide's affects, Dr. Derek Loftis, an assistant research scientist at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has teamed with Virginia-based media partners to launch an event called "Catch the King," asking citizens to use a SeaLevelRise app (available on iOS and Android) to measure the high tide's reach. The free app, developed by the nonprofit Wetlands Watch and software company Concursive, uses GPS coordinates to trace any type of flood event. Scientists then use the coordinates as data points on an online map for public viewing.

The Catch the King tracking event is "a low-stakes dress rehearsal that will help us better understand the risk of recurrent flooding in Hampton Roads," said Loftis in a press release, "while laying the groundwork for a volunteer data-collection network for use during more substantial flood events."

The app-driven data that is collected also will help scientists build predictive models that can forecast the damage and danger of storm surge event, as well as long-term climate change.