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Photographer Oliver Klink poses by some of his photographs at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center in Hayward, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Klink displays his photographs from Alaska, Iceland and Antartica and artist Jennifer Koney creates door-sized abstract paintings of glaciers and icebergs with a distinct line 55 inches from the ground representing projected sea level rise in the bay by 2100 in a show called 55" - Images of Sea Level Rise - Abstraction Meets Reality, opening Saturday, Jan 25th. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

HAYWARD -- Fifty-five inches. Four and a half feet. That's how much sea level is expected to rise along Alameda County's shoreline by the end of this century, and an artist has set out to bring home what that means for us.

"We have to sidestep fear, and I think art is a way of doing that," said Jennifer Koney, who created seven large paintings for the exhibit, "55" -- Images of Sea Level Rise, Abstraction Meets Reality," at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. The exhibit opens Saturday.

The rise in the sea level is expected to cause flooding that will directly affect 80,000 East Bay residents, according to a recent study. Oakland International Airport lies along the shoreline, as do industrial areas, wastewater treatment plants and treated wastewater discharge pipes.

"You don't want that deer in the headlights look from somebody when you talk about sea level rise. You can't problem-solve if you get that response," she said.

Koney used doors as canvases for her abstract paintings of glaciers and icebergs to illustrate climate change effects. The paintings lean against a wall, each having a horizontal line at 55 inches from the ground. Behind the paintings, a blue line taped on the walls and windows marks how deep 55" of water would be for you.

"You as a viewer are going to feel the 55 inches. You are sharing the 55 inches via the horizon line," Koney said.

"I'm using art as a way of communicating difficult information when and if you're ready to receive it," she said.

In addition to using her art to illustrate climate change, Koney also is preparing for the increased sea level in her role as a recreation supervisor for the Hayward Area Park and Recreation District, which manages miles of trails, marshes and wetlands along the shoreline. She is one of several government and agency representatives working together to consider what to do. A three-year local and federal pilot project, Adapting to Rising Tides, studied the shoreline from Emeryville south to Union City, analyzing where it's vulnerable to flooding.

"Now that we have the information, what do we do with it?" Koney asked. "We have about 80 years to get ready."

The Hayward shoreline was chosen as one of two subgroups created as part of the Adapting to Rising Tides Project; the other includes Oakland International Airport and the cities of Oakland and Alameda, said Maggie Wenger of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

The Hayward park district is part of a group of agencies that have property or equipment along the shoreline, including the Hayward park district, East Bay Regional Park District, Hayward, sanitary districts, East Bay Dischargers Authority and the Hayward Area Shoreline Protection Agency.

"They're all working together to reduce coastal flooding. It doesn't make sense for me to build a levee if my neighbor doesn't; we need to think about the rising sea level as a whole community," Wenger said.

The art exhibit includes 29 photographs from Antarctica and Iceland by Oliver Klink, a Bay Area resident who leads photography travel expeditions around the world.¿

The park district also plans "What?! Sharks in my Backyard?," a series of community meetings beginning in February where small groups will talk about what should be the next steps.

The first meeting is at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Castro Valley Library, with later ones planned in San Lorenzo and Hayward.

"This is a call to action to start planning, knowing it takes a lot of time for people to get together to plan and come up with solutions," Koney said.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.

55" -- Images
of Sea Level Rise
Artwork by Jennifer Koney and Oliver Klink
Where: Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center, 4901 Breakwater Ave., Hayward
When: Opening reception, 2 p.m. Saturday; gallery hours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays
Through: April 13
More information: 510-670-7270, shoreline@haywardrec.org