Conference highlights sea level rise “realities and opportunities”

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Dunes on Sand Key along the Gulf of Mexico. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News, Sept. 2009

According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, global sea level rise over the past century has averaged about eight inches; it could rise by much more than that over the next several decades and impact home values and infrastructure in coastal counties like in the Tampa Bay region.

This week at St. Petersburg College, there’s a conference called Sea Level Rise Up: Realities and Opportunities.

Joining us on 88.5 FM MidPoint were two organizers.

Jacqulyn Schuett is the project coordinator at the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College where she facilitates the Suncoast Sea Level Rise Collaborative.

And Maya Burke is Science Policy Coordinator with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and a member of the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel. Burke said,

“There’s a couple of physical phenomena that cause sea level rise. One, like you alluded to, is the temperature change. As water holds more heat the molecules expand. So water gets bigger, physically. So that’s aspect of sea level rise.

“But also, as temperature increases, then we see land-based ice and glaciers melting. And that’s adding more water that was locked away on land into the oceans. That’s one of the most dynamic processes that we’re still learning about in the scientific community. ”

“There are some other — circulation patterns and then local land shift, whether land is rising or sinking — that can also contribute to sea level rise.

“But all of that is really related to the greenhouse gas effect and the heat-trapping blanket — what happens when we’re putting these greenhouse gas emissions, more CO2, out into the atmostphere. And how that’s warming the climate and having these consequences for sea level rise and others.”

What do we know about projections for sea level rise? Especially in the Tampa Bay area?

“The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel is an ad hoc group of scientists that have been working together for about five years now, analyzing the best research that’s going on globally with regard to sea level rise. And then taking the National Climate Assessment and distilling it down for a local audience.

“What we’ve seen is since the St. Pete tide gauge has been functioning here in St. Petersburg, by the Dali Museum off the [USF] College of Marine Science, since the 1940s about 7.8 inches of sea level rise. And for us the recommendations that we’ve put out there to local governments are to see numbers by 2100 of as much as a foot-and-a-half to eight feet of sea level rise by 2100.”

On Friday the conference will focus on actions by local governments and business plus a look at how the media is furthering climate awareness. One speaker is Doug Marcy, Coastal Hazards Specialist, NOAA Office for Coastal Management.

On Saturday sessions will address real estate values, insurance, mortgages and how individuals can become civically engaged in the climate conversation. The conference includes elected officials like mayors and state representatives.

At a previous conference a University of Miami geologist (Harold Wanless) called sea-level rise irreversible because 93 percent of excess heat from global warming is in the oceans. He said, “we’re in it for centuries” and recommends that leaders “plan for 6.6 feet by 2100 as low-end projection. He also says, “all the barrier islands of the world will be being abandoned.”

The Sea Level Rise Up: Realities & Opportunities conference is Friday and Saturday at St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus Conference Center, 9200 113th Street North in Seminole.

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