Students Help Scientists study Rising Tides at First Landing State Park

On Nov. 5, upper school students took to the shoreline to witness and measure an astronomical phenomenon. The Green Team Environmental Science Club and marine biology and AP environmental science classes collaborated to collect data on king tides at First Landing State Park. Science Teacher Dr. Frank Thomson and Technology Integration Specialist Ashley King helped students get in touch with Wetlands Watch, the nonprofit in charge of the King Tide Project, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to collect data on these high tides.

King tides refer to exceptionally high tides that occur once a year. The alignment of the sun and moon interact to produce the greatest tidal range of the year, causing extremely high water levels and changing the way we interact with our shorelines and infrastructure. The King Tides Project is an international initiative delivered by a network of citizen scientists on coastlines around the world. They measure shore lines and capture data and images showing what the future sea levels will be and what’s at risk. The project also helps people understand how sea level rise will impact their lives.

"The tidal flooding was pretty substantial at First Landing State Park,” says Thomson. “At times, the water on the trails was almost knee-deep as we collected our data points. I don't think learning about sea level rise could get any more experiential than that."

The Norfolk Collegiate team was the only group to collect data at Osprey Cove, an especially important point because the cove is on the east end of Broad Bay and receives the full brunt of the incoming tide from Lynnhaven Inlet. This relatively undisturbed wetland area in First Landing State Park absorbs some of the tidal volume, reducing flooding in adjacent residential areas.

The team arrived at Osprey Cove when the tide was still coming in, letting them observe the end of the flood tide followed by slack tide at approximately 11 a.m. The class theorized high tide was about 20 minutes later than predicted due to the persistent wind across Broad Bay that day. Students were then able to see the tide reverse course and the ebb tide flow back into the bay.

"We were able to experience nature while using social media and an iPhone app,” says sophomore Braeden Thomson ’20. “We got to help the scientific community and an important environmental cause, so there was something for everyone on this trip."

Students hiked over five miles, picked up four bags of trash and collected over 500 data points for the King Tide Project. Scientists are already using this data to compare with existing models and revise their parameters.