The Islands of Seattle

Islands Of SeattleThey warn us it’s coming. We ignore them. But it’s coming. The ocean doesn’t listen to pundits on TV. It just rises.

I strolled by the seaside the other day down at my aboriginal haunt, Alki Beach. Where once I used to walk along the seawall south and west of the main beach gazing down at wave-washed sands caressed by the swells of Puget Sound, the story has already changed.

Nowadays, its more a matter of gazing across at the sands, and walking along the wave-washed walkway. You see, in the decades since I was a kid here, the Sound has risen enough to surge right over the bulkhead and onto the paved walkway whenever there is a larger-than-average high tide.

Sand washing over the seawall happened when I was a kid. That’s not a new thing. But it only happened once or twice a year when an extra-high tide combined with a storm. Now, the weather can be as calm as you want. The highest tides always wash sand over the walkway.

Seems I read somewhere that the global ocean level had risen by eight inches since detailed records were kept, starting in the 1950s. Well, that’s when my personal record-keeping started, right inside my cranium.

So yep. I can confirm it. The ocean is rising.

That image, “The Islands of Seattle,” is no fantasy. It’s a map of the hills of Seattle with the ocean raised up to the 250-feet-above-sea-level mark. Click it twice to get an expanded view. That’s the height the water will reach if the polar caps melt completely. It’s a common joke around town that, if the sea level rises enough, a homeowner may have the good fortune of going from inland property to a waterfront estate–if he can afford to wait long enough.

But there’s a downside for about half the population–they’ll only be able to go home in scuba gear. It makes me a little melancholy to look over the map and think of the places I lived at one time or another.

The housing project where I spent my earliest years down on the Duwamish Riverbanks in South Park, will be long gone. It will be prime fish territory on the bottom of what the mapmakers call the Duwamish Passage. And the home where I grew up through grade, middle, and high school will occupy the bottom of the Bay of Genesee. And the beach I have been talking about will become shoalwaters overlooked by the heights of the Admiral Peninsula. The den-of-iniquity rental house where I misspent my university years will sink to become part of University Shoals, along with the rest of one of the nation’s great institutions of higher learning.

The only old haunt that seems likely to survive is the home I built on the south side of Genessee Hill, which looks like it may end up as that proverbial waterfront property. That was a smart choice. Too bad I sold it to move up to high ground on Cougar Mountain. Which, I see, will still be well above the tideline in that not-too-far-off future. Another smart choice.

Meanwhile, I intend to keep visiting Alki Beach while I still can. I guess that means I’ll need a new pair of wading boots. Better make them hip-waders.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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