NOAA: Record sea levels measured off Santa Barbara and Southern California

Dec 4, 2015

California is facing the highest sea levels ever measured according to new information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

A beach access stairwell near Campus Point at UCSB.
Credit flickr King Tides Project - Claire Fackler

Data from monitoring buoys show the King Tides during Thanksgiving week set new records at monitoring buoys located in Santa Barbara, San Diego and La Jolla. These records even top those recorded during the state's largest storms.

The previous Santa Barbara record was set in 1973, and the one in San Diego went all the way back to 1906.

Abe Doherty with the California Ocean Protection Council said Friday that the extremely high levels are likely the result of a combination of factors, including a record-breaking El Niño, warmer waters directly off our coast, and sea level rise from melting ice caps.

Benjamin Ruttenberg with Cal Poly's Biological Sciences Department said the shifting tidal zone and warmer waters are a deadly combination for some local species, while other may fare rather well.

"Many of the intertidal animals that are affixed to the rocks—you know if it's a low tide on a hot day—it's going to get really warm for them," said Ruttenberg. "They are generally pre-adapted to being able to handle much more variable temperature."

In addition to the effects on sea life, the changes are posing localized flooding issues for many of California's seaside communities.

Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say conditions similar to what we're seeing now are likely to continue with greater frequency and at higher levels. The next set of King Tides will hit the Pacific Coast Christmas week.