<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0; url=https://r.sealevelrise.org/https://sealevelrise.org/states/washington/"/> Washington's Sea Level Rise - Sea Level Rise


Washington’s Sea Level Is Rising

Despite the fact that land is rising in Washington due to a shifting in the tectonic plates,1 the sea level off Washington’s coast is up to 4 inches higher than it was in 1950.2 This increase is mostly due to ice melting into the ocean, and it’s causing major issues.3 Higher sea levels can increase coastal flooding, contribute to beach erosion, and allow saltwater to intrude into drinking water supplies.4 Solutions in Washington are urgent because the state’s coast supports a $17 billion annual tourism industry.5 The state is taking action and planning efforts to combat sea level rise and mitigate flooding.

Sea level rise is speeding up

The sea level around Friday Harbor, Washington, has risen by 4 inches since 1950. Its speed of rise has accelerated over the last ten years and it’s now rising by about 1 inch every 5 years.2 Scientists know this because the sea level is measured every 6 minutes using equipment like satellites, floating buoys off the coast, and tidal gauges to accurately measure the local sea level as it accelerates and changes.7

Created with Highcharts 6.1.3

Sea level measurement from Friday Harbor area tide gauge since 1950

Causes & Complications

Why Are Sea Levels Rising?

In some areas of Washington, sea level rise is slower because the Earth’s tectonic plates are shifting the land upwards.1 While this slows down sea level rise, the ocean is still rising faster than the land is. In areas where the land is sinking, sea levels are rising even higher.

Although there are three main causes of sea level rise in Washington, ice melt is the largest contributor.3 Because the rate of ice melt has been increasing significantly since 1992, Washington is particularly vulnerable to an increased rate of sea level rise in the future.2 Click here to learn more about the causes of sea level rise.

Ice Melt
How Ice Melt Increases Sea Level Rise

El Niño can worsen West Coast flooding

In Washington, sea level rise and flooding can be impacted by El Niño weather events, which cause warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast.8 Because water expands as it warms, El Niño events can raise coastal sea levels for several months.9 Although an El Niño decreases rainfall in Washington, it also causes bigger winter waves, which increase flooding and coastal erosion.10


What's the Future of Sea Level Rise?

In the last decade, the speed at which Washington’s sea level is rising has increased, and is now rising by about 1 inch every 5 years. Around Friday Harbor, the sea level has risen around 4 inches since 1950.2 Scientists now forecast that in just the next 14 years, the sea will rise by as much as 6 inches.11

Scientists are not certain how fast the ocean will warm and ice will melt. They expect water levels to continue to rise faster, but are not sure just how fast. Therefore scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have made predictions based on ranges from low to high.

Below you can see the range of the NOAA and USACE high and intermediate forecasts for various locations around Washington.12 Currently, the USACE high forecast, seen as the darkest red line, is the most likely projection.

Toke Point
Created with Highcharts 6.1.3Toke Point Sea Level Rise Forecasts


What's at Risk in Washington?

There’s a lot at risk from sea level rise and flooding in Washington. Sea level rise is eroding shorelines and flooding cities, which puts roads, underground electrical infrastructure, and above ground infrastructure, such as oil handling facilities, at risk from flooding.13 Saltwater is beginning to move inland and into the state’s aquifers, which pollutes drinking water and damages habitats. Some drinking water supplies are already lost to saltwater intrusion, as coastal wells can no longer be used.14

Beach erosion can impact important tourist destinations that support Washington’s $17 billion tourism industry, like Gray’s Harbor.4 In places like Cape Shoalwater, the beach is eroding at 100 feet per year, and erosion issues near the Quillayute River could affect accessibility for the Quileute Tribe and to the United States Coast Guard station.4


Flooding can damage shop interiors and merchandise, and force businesses to close. Tourism and port industries can be impacted or shut down by sea level rise.


Rising seas increase the speed of beach erosion, pulling more sand from the beach into sea. Replacing the sand is possible, but expensive.


The ocean is salty, and as it rises higher, that salty water sometimes will mix with drinking water, ruining water wells.

Washington is preparing for sea level rise

Solutions can be complicated in Washington, because communities will need to plan for sea level rise and flooding with mitigation efforts that also protect important coastal habitats.13 Some cities have sufficient resources to deal with this problem while others do not. Washington will need solutions at the individual, local, state, and federal levels to protect its coastal communities.


Washington has a Coastal Resilience Project that will span 3 years and help the state rapidly enhance its ability to prepare for sea level rise and coastal threats.15


Seattle has a Climate Preparedness Strategy that outlines a range of actions Seattle will pursue to prepare for sea level rise and storm surge events.16


The City of Olympia and Port of Olympia developed a comprehensive Sea Level Rise Response Plan for Downtown Olympia, which builds on steps that have already been taken to prepare for sea level rise.17

What can you do?

Individuals, mayors, legislators, governors, and Congress can work together to build protections before flooding, to build back stronger after flooding, and to create plans that future-proof our communities. Click here to see what solutions can help protect your home or what your community can do.