Scientists tell Tampa Bay leaders to prepare for up to 8.5 feet of sea-level rise

chronic flood risk via Union of Concerned Scientists report on sea-level rise
Sea-level graphic from Union of Concerned Scientists.

Seas are rising all over the world and the rate of sea-level rise keeps increasing as well; a new report says the low-lying coastal Tampa Bay area should expect at least two feet, but as much as eight-and-a-half feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century.

Maya Burke is the science policy coordinator with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and is co-facilitator of the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel.

“The Climate Science Advisory Panel first put out a recommendation for projected sea-level rise in the Tampa Bay region back in 2015. And we recently completed a revision and update to those projections. On Monday I was able to share that information with the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition’s steering committee of elected officials. And that was convened by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.”

What are you telling us? How much is sea level going to rise in the next few decades?

“So, bottom line, our projections show that the Tampa Bay region is likely to experience about two to eight-and-a-half feet of sea-level rise by the year 2100.”

What’s causing sea-level rise?

“Sea-level rise is caused by the warming atmosphere, it physically causes the oceans to expand. That really has to do with these heat-trapping gasses – the greenhouse gas emissions – that humans are putting into the environment. The numbers are a little higher than the last time we made these projections. And a lot of that has to do with evolving science with regards to how fast and how much the land-based ice is melting.”

Is it that the ice is melting faster or we just have a better way to measure how fast it’s melting?

“It’s really both. I think there are some really dynamic feedback processes that are going on with regard to calving of glaciers and ice sheets. So that is causing melt rates to occur quicker than we initially thought.”

You say ‘feedback.’ What that means is, things are happening that are causing it to melt faster. Such as what?

“There are new conditions that we’re observing all the time. And as these changes in the atmosphere are occurring, ice is behaving in different ways than what models initially predicted. That’s what I mean when I talk about feedback loops, I suppose.”

The last time we talked, about a month-and-a-half ago, your numbers weren’t as precise because you didn’t have the final report out that you were going to present to the [Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition’s steering committee this week]. You knew the high end might be around eight feet [of sea-level-rise in the Tampa Bay region by 2100], but now you’re predicting eight-and-a-half now.

If it’s on the high end, what does eight-and-a-half feet of sea-level rise mean for the Tampa Bay area?

“Well, eight-and-a-half feet is very substantial. That would cover our barrier islands and significant portions of our downtowns and our coastline.

“It’s important to note that the regional projections that we shared – they assign a probability to each of those curves. That high curve of eight-and-a-half feet is only considered likely if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses at the rates we do now and we account for maximum plausible ice melt. There’s really only a less than one percent chance that we will see sea-level rise greater than that eight-and-a-half feet.”

Listen to more here:


Here is a link to the NOAA tides and currents sea level trend data for St. Petersburg, FL.



Read or download the report here:


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