- Learn MoreOff Washington’s ocean coast lies a subduction zone where one continental plate, the Pacific, is slowly pushing under another, the North American Plate. Pressure builds up along this faultline until it releases with devastating force, in the form of earthquakes that may top 9 on the moment magnitude scale. The evidence suggests our region is due for another.The tsumani generated by a large quake along this Cascadia Subduction Zone could reach communities on Washington’s ocean coast within 20 minutes and larger communities on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in less than an hour. Nevertheless, many jurisdictions are unprepared for such a catastrophe. Much more could be done to build resilience, from evacuation planning to relocating critical infrastructure out of the inundation zone.
Meanwhile, winter storms pound the coast mercilessly, with winds sometimes reaching hurricane-level force. Since the days of early settlement, and occasionally since, rising waves and eroding beaches claimed coastal homes and other structures. At the south end of the Olympic Peninsula, the sprawling Moclips Beach Hotel, together with many homes, was shattered by storms in 1911 and 1913.
Today, as global climate change causes Arctic ice to melt and warming seawater to expand, rising sea levels throw a new threat at coastal communities. Many of them, including native tribal communities, were built close to shore, at the mouths of rivers, where fish and fresh water were plentiful. Now those estuarine settlements are particularly vulnerable to sea rise and seasonal flooding. One, the Quileute Tribe on the Olympic Coast, is making plans to move upland because of their village’s acute exposure to tsunamis. The Quileutes have already secured land from the Olympic National Park to relocate their school, which stands just one foot above current sea level.
Washington Sea Grant’s (WSG) coastal-resilience specialists are at the forefront of efforts to understand, anticipate, and mitigate coastal hazards.
Whether it’s providing practical demonstrations of the implications of sea level rise or preparing communities and governments for flooding, erosion and other challenges associated with climate change, WSG staff are at the forefront of helping Washingtonians understand and adapt to our changing climate.
- WSG funded and collaborated with scientists to study the coastal influence of the removal of the Elwha River Dam. To visit the site of the largest dam removal in the world, and one of the largest ecological restoration projects ever attempted, follow our self-guided field trip of the Elwha River Restoration Tour.
- Tacoma partnered with WSG on the NOAA-funded “Washington Coastal Resilience Project” as a pilot community, testing methods to incorporate technical guidance for coastal hazards and climate change into community plans. To experience this work, walk along the waterfront with directions from the Tacoma Working Waterfront and Tideflats self-guided field trip.
- WSG’s Marine Spatial Planning Specialist Bridget Trosin coordinates the Washington King Tides program which invites citizens to “snap the shore and see the future” and share their photos of the twice-yearly extreme tides — “king tides” — online, opening a window for coastal residents and decision makers onto how changing climate and rising seas will affect their communities.
- WSG, working with the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE), is building the statewide Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network, which will inform and coordinate state, federal, and local planning efforts.
- WSG and WDOE also coordinate the Shoreline and Coastal Planners Group, which has focused initially on anticipating and planning for sea level rise.
- WSG developed a course on Sea Level Rise Adaptation to help communities adapt their infrastructure and zoning and building codes; this course is offered through the Department of Ecology’s Coastal Training Program.
- WSG is conducting a course on Coastal Flood Risk Reduction offered through the National Disaster Preparedness Center in Hawai’i. Communities seeking to reduce their potential flood losses may request a presentation of this course at a venue of choice, tailored to local conditions.
- Ian Miller, WSG’s Olympic Peninsula-based Coastal Hazards Specialist, led the development of a comprehensive climate change assessment for the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary, the first such assessment in the national marine sanctuary system. He also helped the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe draft its Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan.
- Washington Coastal Resilience Project
Read about the three-year effort to increase Washington State’s capacity to prepare for nature events that threaten the coast.
- NOAA’s Center for Tsunami Research
WSG staff have been working with the Center to connect best-available tsunami science with those that benefit from the information, including coastal communities and state and federal agencies.
- Planning for change: climate adaptation survey results, Washington state, 2014
This statewide survey assesses the role of coastal practitioners and elected officials in climate change adaptation, the hurdles they have faced, and the nature of the information they have for local impacts.
- Climate Change and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe: A Customized Approach to Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Planning
Read about how the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe worked to address climate resilience, sustainable resources and economic growth, and long-term community and cultural vitality.
- Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future (fee-based)
Find out how the National Research Council helped develop sea-level rise projections for Washington, Oregon, and Washington
- Climate Change and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: Interpreting Potential Futures
Learn how NOAA is helping the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary adapt to climate change by bridging the gap between global projectsion and location implications.
- The Coast Nerd Gazette
Follow WSG’s Ian Miller timely postings about Olympic Peninsula issues ranging from the Elwha Dam removal to climate change to tsunami debris.
- Coastal hazard planning: the role of governance in community resilience
- Oil Spill Vulnerability Models
- Impacts of West Coast Moorage Marinas
- Puget Sound Marine Protected Areas
- Acoustic Model for Monitoring Marine Noise
- Washington Coastal Resilience Project
- Successful Climate Change Adaptation
- Effective Bioretention for Stormwater Control
- Climate Change Impacts on Dungeness Crab
- Hazard Mitigation for Coastal Infrastructure
- Scaling up cost-efficient community engagement in coastal resource management
- Effects of waterfront stormwater solution prototypes on water quality runoff
- The environmental and economic impacts of moorage marines on the West Coast
- Habitat modification due to Elwha dam removal
- Projections of ocean properties along the Washington coast related to environmental health
- Wetlands restoration benefits for carbon sequestration
- Effects of sediment sulfide on Puget Sound eelgrass
- Armoring impacts on Puget Sound beaches
- Removal of Puget Sound shoreline armoring
- Restoring Shorlines to Improve Fish Habitat
- Successful adaptation: Identifying effective process and outcome characteristics and practice-relevant metrics
- Vertical land movement effects on sea-level rise on Washington’s shores
- Transportation and disaster recovery models for tsunamis
- The impacts of tsunami debris on Washington’s coastal residents and ecosystems
In the News
- What new projections of sea level rise mean for Puget Sound and the WA coast Seattle Times, February 26, 2022
- Sea level on steroids: Record tides flood Washington coastlines KUOW, January 9, 2022
- Records of earthquakes and tsunamis in coastal wetlands
Salish Magazine, October 23, 2020
- Tacoma redesigning popular beach using climate change projections
King 5 News, February 12, 2020
- How native tribes are taking the lead on planning for climate change
Yale Environment 360, February 11, 2020
- Owen Beach will close for a year starting this summer. It’ll look different when it reopens
The News Tribute, February 7, 2020
- Here’s where Whatcom County will see the impacts of rising sea levels
The Bellingham Herald, December 17, 2019
- DNR issues new maps to help residents escape a tsunami
KBKW, April 8, 2019
- Tsunami roadshow returns as evacuation projects loom
North Coast News, April 4, 2019
- Looking to the past to understand future tsunami threats
National Sea Grant College Program, March 19, 2019
- Crowdsourcing king tides to better understand rising sea levels
Route Fifty, December 17, 2019
- Researchers use king tides to predict sea-level rise on San Juan
The Journal of the San Juan Islands, December 6, 2018
- New app enlists smart phone users in keeping Puget Sound clean
The Monroe Monitor & Valley News, December 20, 2018
- Collaborative effort produces new marine debris action plan for Washington
San Juan Islander, September 5, 2018
- How to survive a tsunami
Popular Science, June 27, 2017
- Group says Lake Washington habitat “starving” from bulkheads
KUOW, June 29, 2017
- Sea level rise in the San Juans
The Journal of the San Juan Islands, June 14, 2017
- Kirkland helps grow green shorelines program
King County Downstream Blog, June 7, 2017
- Retreat of fight? Erosion chews away southwest Washington coast
KUOW, September 26, 2016