Explore More — A Forum for Climate Change

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Dr. Dutton, standing, and Dr. Frank, seated

A large crowd attended the University of Florida’s forum on climate change, held in the Bob Graham Center in Pugh Hall  this evening, Aug. 30, 2016.

The forum presented a conversation about sea level rise, past, present and future with UF geochemist Andrea Dutton and urban planner Kathryn Frank.

Andrea Dutton, an assistant professor in UF’s Department of Geological Sciences, is co-leader of an international working group investigating the geological record of changes in sea levels and ice sheet mass in order to better predict future sea level rise. Dutton’s research currently focuses on reconstructing sea level over periods spanning thousands of years, with an emphasis on establishing the behavior of sea level and ice sheets during previous warm periods.

Kathryn Frank, an assistant professor in UF’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, specializes in environmental planning and has led initiatives to study social and ecological adaptations to sea level rise on Florida’s east and west coasts. Her interests include science-based policy-making, climate change and water, and decision-making processes that facilitate mitigation and adaptation to sea level rise.

The presentation consisted of Dr. Dutton explaining the physical phenomena of what is happening, and Dr. Frank the results or reactions of the people affected.

Climate change is happening, and the sea is rising about 3 mm per year, right now, but the rate is accelerating.  As all geologists know, the sea has covered the Florida peninsula many times in the past, so this is nothing new.  However, it is new to mankind, as we did not exist the other times it was covered.

Depending on how soon (not if,) the Antarctic ice sheet collapses, which is being eroded from underneath by the warmer ocean, the sea may rise one meter by 2100.  Or more.

If anyone has visions of sea walls and dikes, as in Venice or the Netherlands, we can forget that, since the land in South Florida is limestone, which is permeable, and water will percolate up through it on both sides of a dike.

Dr. Frank offered some numbers to consider:  in Florida, if the sea rose 5 feet,  there are 1.3 million people living on land that would be underwater.  Their real estate is valued at $334 billion,  roads underwater would include 8,800 miles, and 3,200 square miles of land would be underwater.

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Dr. Frank has also begun dialogs with some coastal areas of Florida regarding the continuing rise of the oceans.  Florida has no long range plan for a transition to higher ground.  Dr. Frank has found local governments more responsive to the coming crisis than state government.  Our current status quo of developing on the edge of the water must be changed.  We must recognize that small changes result in a big impact.

We must also realize that rising sea levels will  effect not only the coastal areas, but North Florida, as the millions in the south will flee northward.  This will exacerbate an already-present water crisis.  We recall that a leader in the ranks of OSFR has been predicting that very thing for years.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-


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