In my 2D Design class, we’ve learned about more than creating good design. We also learned something about nature’s designs and the impact we humans can have when we try to intervene.

Our professor, Jan Piribeck, is involved in the Envisioning Change project, which aims to visualize sea level change in Portland and the Casco Bay region over about a 200- year period — from 1900 to 2100.

Here’s a visual to help explain the issue. It comes from a publication that Maine historian Earle Shettleworth, Jr wrote in 1993 called “A Knudsen-Neilsen Family Album.”

Envisioning Change Marie KnudsenThe picture was taken in the early 1900s and shows Marie Knudsen with her flock of ducks.  She is on Marginal Way in Portland and Back Cove is in the background. If you are familiar with the area, you’ll notice that the shape of the cove doesn’t look anything like it does today. Over the past century it has been filled in and made dramatically smaller. The neighborhood that was developed is known as East Bayside. This map from the Natural Resources Council of Maine shows the impact of rising sea levels on that area.

Natural Resources Council Maine Portland map

When there is a high tide, waters from the cove force their way back up through storm drains and often cause flooding. Here’s a picture taken during a high tide in October 2010. It is close to where Marie was standing with her ducks.

Envisioning Change Back Cove Flood

The fact is, sea levels are rising and research has shown that rates have accelerated in recent years. “It’s an important issue,” says Jan, “and will have a significant impact on the future of Portland’s waterfront.”

The primary goal of Envisioning Change is to create an awareness of the rising levels and the effect on vulnerable areas. Jan says it’s not about debating the possible causes of rising sea levels, but to help document that it is happening. She gave a presentation to our class early in the semester and invited interested students to participate in the project. She explained that “artists, students and community members were working together to collect, process and disseminate historical data, current data and data related to future projections about sea level rise.”

The information they gather “will be used to make visible the gradual and sometimes imperceptible phenomenon of sea level change.” A perfect time to collect current data is during a king tide. King tides are the highest tides of the year and one is expected in Portland at 11:22 am this Wednesday, December 4th. The predicted height of the tide is 11.6 feet above sea level.

Project participants took lots of pictures on Marginal Way during a king tide this past June. The tide was predicted to rise to 11.85 feet a little before midnight. It rose to 12.14 feet — 1/3 foot higher than expected. Areas that flood during king tides now will flood more often in the future as sea levels rise.

Marginal Way King Tide

King Tide Marginal Way

This time, the king tide is supposed to happen during the day and there’s going to be a party — the East Bayside King Tide Party — hosted by USM faculty and students in cooperation with the East Bayside Neighborhood Association, Zero Station Gallery, Portland Resilience Hub and Portland Maine Permaculture. At the same time, USM and Maine College of Art are collaborating on a special king tide event that is open to the public.

King tide participants will gather at Zero Station Gallery, 222 Anderson Street at 10:30 am for light refreshments and opening remarks.

Volunteers helping with the Envisioning Change project will start collecting data at the intersection of Marginal Way and Cove Street at around 11:22 am.

Jan says their mission is to “observe, witness, visually document and participate in the intervention (temporary occupation and alteration of the site).” They’ll also release four-dozen miniature rubber ducks into the flooded area and participants are invited to think of additional ways to mark the site.

From 11:30 am to 3:00 pm MECA will display a Pop-up Shop installation at 94 Commercial Street. The installation was organized in collaboration with the Portland Society for Architecture and its Rising Tides Symposium program and MECA’s Public Engagement students. “Participating MECA students have researched and investigated the topic of climate change and sea level change and have created a participatory installation and individual projects in response.”

A core group of USM Art, Engineering, Media Studies and Geography students are working on the Envisioning Change project. They’ll use the data they collect during the king tide to create interactive, thematic maps that visualize rising sea levels.

“The significance of these King Tide events cannot be overstated,” says Jan. “It is sometimes easier to ignore than adapt to change, but the risk of flooding has implications for the economy, city planning and community development. Clearly, Portland communities need to be aware of the problem so that they can make responsible decisions that are critical to the wellbeing of the city and region.”

If you want to participate or learn more about king tides and rising sea levels, head over to Zero Station Gallery this Wednesday, December 4th at 10:30.

Look for the Envisioning Change team in lime green safety vests, says Jan. They’ll be leading the group to Cove Street and Marginal Way at approximately 11:15 a.m.  “Put on your hats and scarves,” she says, “and bring your cameras, cell phones and GPS receivers, do performances, make movies, record or just witness the rising tides!”

King Tide Poster



Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: