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Educating, engaging, and empowering people to prepare for the future of sea level rise through citizen science and digital storytelling.



The majority of the world’s populations live in coastal areas.  Trillions of dollars worth of private property, public infrastructure, and businesses are at risk from rising seas.  This Climate CoLab contest seeks ideas for how those coastal climate change risks can be communicated to engage diverse stakeholders to take actions that decrease vulnerability and enhance their resilience.  Our project offers one way to do so:  use community mapping and digital storytelling to engage high school science students in sea level rise adaptation planning.

The lead group for this proposal, The King Tides Project, began as a public outreach campaign to raise awareness of coastal climate change risks through a non-political, “see for yourself” event that put the photographer at the center of their own experience in discovering how floods and sea level rise could impact the places where they live, work, and play.  After several years of successful public engagement, we are now developing a scalable model to engage young people in meaningful climate change adaptation by teaching them the basics of sea level rise science, empowering them to conduct hands-on inquiries of how their communities will be impacted, and then linking their work to science and policy action.

Category of the action

Communicating Coastal Risk and Resiliency

What actions do you propose?

In academic year 2014 – 2015, we will partner with high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area to educate science students about climate change and sea level rise through hands-on mapping and data collection that will then be used by scientists and local decision-makers to protect lives, homes, and businesses. First, students in our pilot communities of Benicia, Marin, and Richmond will work through a classroom curriculum to learn basic concepts in climate science, sea level rise, and data collection. Then, students will apply this knowledge by mapping the flood-vulnerable areas in their own communities during the “king tides” – the extreme high tides of the year which show us what average water levels will be like in the future (in California, the annual king tide represents what we can expect from the average daily tide in approximately 2050). The data and observations that students collect will then be used by planners and researchers to ground-truth local flood vulnerability models and to visualize municipal flood vulnerability assessments in each of our pilot communities. Thus, students become true partners in the creation of both the science and the policy that will drive decisions in their own communities.

Specific actions and incentives for project team members are described below:

High school science educators and students: The National Research Council has called for an overhaul of how science is taught in the U.S., and the recently-adopted Next Generation Science Standards require teachers to develop educational programs that rely less on textbook study and more on inquiry-based, hands-on learning experiences.  This is an exciting development in education that has opened up unprecedented opportunities for experimentation and innovation.  Teachers are eager to implement new curricula like the one that we are developing.  Through this project, students are empowered to construct their own climate change narratives and drive their own learning experiences based on observation and reflection.

Municipal planning agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area:  Each of our pilot municipalities is conducting a planning process that includes a sea level rise vulnerability assessment.  In order to conduct that vulnerability assessment and to develop appropriate adaptation strategies, planners need hyperlocal data about the areas that are at risk.   The maps and information that students gather during the field-based community mapping component of the curriculum will be incorporated into the vulnerability assessments.

UC Berkeley’s Y-Plan is an award-winning framework for engaging students in community development.  Y-Plan staff will match high school science classes within their network to the municipal agencies undertaking vulnerability assessments, and work with the entire team to execute the project.

The King Tides Project has conducted numerous civic engagement and citizen science projects to educate, engage, and inspire coastal residents.  King Tides Project staff will provide overall project coordination and integration across the diverse disciplines and organizations involved, and work with teachers to refine our existing educational resources  (originally developed by USC Sea Grant and Friends of Casco Bay). After the pilot has been conducted, King Tides Project staff will then produce a turnkey toolkit that other communities can use as-is, or can customize it to meet local education standards and policy processes.

Map Your World is a youth-oriented community mapping platform created by the Emmy-nominated executive director of the documentary film, ‘The Revolutionary Optimists’. This platform will be used by students to document, visualize, and communicate flood risk vulnerability in their communities.

Our Coast, Our Future is the most up-to-date suite of sea level rise vulnerability scenarios for the San Francisco Bay Area.  ‘Our Coast, Our Future’ staff will supply municipal agencies, school groups, and the Map Your World platform with sea level rise projections for their study areas, and will work with Marin County this winter on a vulnerability assessment.  

Who will take these actions?

Roles and responsibilities for the key actors have been incorporated into the above section.   To summarize our vision for the groups touched by this project:

  • Educators lead hands-on learning experiences with practical benefits
  • Students directly participate in gathering data that drives decisions in their communities
  • Planners and public health officials have access to local data about vulnerable populations, infrastructure, and resources
  • Scientists leverage a distributed network of individuals who can collect high-quality data quickly and at low cost
  • Everyday citizens experience compelling, authentic stories and visuals which could advance their understanding of - and engagement in – local climate change impacts

What are other key benefits?

Our project brings together some of the most promising trends from the worlds of climate science, civic tech, city planning, citizen science, and experiential learning in a multidisciplinary experiment.   Beyond data collection and vulnerability visualization, this project empowers young people to make a meaningful contribution to research that has a direct impact on their lives.  The people who will participate in this project are, by and large, living in coastal communities that face dangerous flood risks today and drastic sea level rise consequences in the future. These very people will be called upon over the coming decades to make difficult decisions about their communities, including how land is used and developed, and possibly even when it is time to retreat from rising waters. 

We are eager to broadly share our lessons with coastal management, education, and planning communities, and hope that our pilot will spark future creative collaborations across traditional disciplines.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Currently, The King Tides Project relies on in-kind staff support from approximately 40 non-profit organizations and government agencies worldwide.  Many project team partners are already partially or fully funded to participate in this project as described, those costs are not included in the below calculations.  Some of the below costs will be offset by existing organizers and partnerships.  We are actively seeking funding to fill the gaps.

Direct costs for the 2014 – 2015 pilot described in this proposal = $48,000.   That funding would cover:

  • Project staff time  project coordination; teacher support; educational resources refinement; toolkit development.  $30.000.
  • Technology enhancements:  modifications to the Map Your World interface to integrate GIS layers (basemaps, ‘Our Coast, Our Future’ sea level rise scenarios, data from municipal agencies) and to The King Tides Project website.  $10,000.
  • Supplies and equipment:  Tablets for data collection; printing of student presentations; materials for pop up exhibit.  $8,000.

Time line

Winter 2009:  First King Tides public outreach project was piloted in Australia.  Additional projects in Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California quickly followed the next year. 

Winter 2013:  First King Tides citizen science project was piloted in San Francisco to crowdsource images for use in flood model validation.

August 2014:  Draft Next Generation Science Standards-compliant sea level rise curriculum (created by USC Sea Grant) was piloted at UC Berkeley’s ‘Understanding Global Change’ teacher institute.

September 2014:  Final pairing of interested high school science classes with municipal planning agencies that are undertaking sea level rise vulnerability assessments.

Late Fall 2014:  Using Y-Plan framework, students work through classroom curricula and prepare for their community mapping projects.

Winter 2015:  Students use Map Your World’s digital storytelling platform to document flood vulnerability during king tides, collect oral histories, create videos, overlay maps, and otherwise explore how their communities will be affected by sea level rise. 

Spring 2015:  Municipal planning agencies are provided with the results of students' work for inclusion in vulnerability assessments and flood scenario validation.  King Tides Project staff work with interested students to present their findings at community meetings, local museums, coastal management meetings, or other public venues.

Summer 2015:  Staff from The King Tides Project, Y-Plan, and Map Your World create and disseminate a toolkit for municipalities and school groups in the United States, which contains engagement framework, case studies, curricula, and other resources.

Our 3-year goal is to incubate similar projects outside the U.S.  Given the variations in educational approaches; planning processes; sea level rise predictions; and community support for adaptation planning, the project team would need to secure significant additional funding, resources, and/or in-kind partnerships. 

Related proposals

Climate Stories Project seeks to gather stories of climate change affecting real people, with a long term mission to develop educational resources.  The themes of digital storytelling and youth education are synergistic with this proposal.

NJAdapt is a platform targeted to local coastal decision makers.  Once our engagement methodology and educational resources have been tested and refined, NJAdapt staff could integrate our approach with their platform to support local coastal management planning.

FutureCoast is “participatory CliFi”, a gamified way to consider coastal climate impacts.  We’ve been in contact previously about potential collaborations, and would love to explore how we could work together on classroom curricula and digital storytelling. 


The Guardian’s “King Tide Photos Show Reality Beats Hyperbole in Climate Debate

The Exploratorium’s “Science in the City” mini-documentary about The King Tides Project (video)

KQED ‘s “Going Up:  Sea Level Rise in San Francisco” special report (video)

Rolling Stone’s “Goodbye Miami” article on threats to coastal urban populations

United Nations and Jim Toomey’s “Adaptation to Sea Level Rise” (video)

National Geographic’s “King Tides:  What Explains High Water Threatening Global Coasts?

NOAA’s “Tidal Flooding” introduction (video)