Climate researchers estimate sea level rise impacts on florida – news – ocala.com – ocala, fl gsa 2016 catalog

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Five Florida communities — Cape Sable (the southern point of the peninsula), Key Biscayne, Key West, the Lower Keys and the Middle Keys — could experience recurring tidal flooding unrelated to any storm events by 2035, according to their study. Three of those locations — Cape Sable, the Lower Keys and Middle Keys — already find themselves partially submerged at times but the forecast says their frequently inundated areas will roughly double in size within the next 17 years.

Under the Union of Concerned Scientists’ fastest sea level rise scenario, 13 more communities could be added to that list by 2045 — including Merritt Island, Miami Beach, Ponte Vedra and St. Pete Beach. By that year, the group reports, 60 percent of the Lower Keys, 39 percent of the Middle Keys and 38 percent of Key West could find themselves underwater for about half of the year.

If the scientists’ forecasts are even regarded as ballpark, the ramifications could be far reaching. Property values, real estate sales, tourist-oriented economies, insurance rates, local governments’ bond ratings, business revenues and more could be adversely affected, and much sooner than many people expect.

Founded in 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists explores how public policy and welfare are affected by science-based issues — such as nuclear power, food production and climate change. On the latter topic, the organization — which consists of 200 staff members and 23,000 consultants from diverse fields — is engaged in an ongoing exploration of how global warming could cause sea level rise in 23 coastal states in the continental United States (excluding Alaska).

The union used 20 years of records from more than 90 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tidal gauges, NOAA’s digital elevation models and sea level rise projections, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ localized projections for each tidal gauge area, as well as interviews with experts about the frequency of local flooding in various locations, such as Annapolis and Charleston, to arrive at its own range of calculations.

Robert Musil, president and chief executive of the Rachel Carson Council and an adjunct professor at American University who teaches about climate change and environmental politics, credits the scientific group with “a long record of accurate information, particularly on climate change. They are a very reliable source. Their projections seem reasonable to me.”

Although he has not examined all of the findings for Florida, Ken Lindeman, sustainability program chairman at the Florida Institute of Technology, said that, in his experience, he has found the UCS’s research to be “credible or very credible.”

Shimon Wdowinski, assistant professor with the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University who is also affiliated with FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center, also said he could not comment on the study’s specifics because he does not know “the assumptions used for the calculations.”

He noted that “tidal flooding doesn’t occur regularly because tide levels vary seasonally and annually.” Depending “on the astronomical position of the sun and moon,” his research shows that “sea level is higher in Miami during the fall (September-November).”

The UCS website includes interactive maps that residents and public officials can use to see “moderate” and “high” scenarios for their communities. It also conveys what percentage of the land in each area could experience chronic inundation and by what year.

The “low scenario” is based on the presumption that a significant reduction in carbon emissions from fossil fuel-burning sources, such as vehicles and power plants (which are considered a cause of global warming), occurs as societies shift to renewable energy sources. The current rate of ice loss also slows considerably under the assumptions.

The city of Sarasota is not included in any of the scenarios because it did not reach the threshold of 10 percent of its land experiencing chronic inundation. Even so, the maps show areas such as St. Armands Key heavily impacted as early as 2045.

For a community to take on such a challenge, “you have to have a committed (city) council majority,” Lindeman explained at a recent seminar sponsored by 1,000 Friends of Florida. “You have to have committed city staff. And you have to have committed citizens.”

Of Satellite Beach’s 10,000 residents, 479 responded to a city survey about whether the community should make preparations for sea level rise, such as installing larger drainage pipes, moving utilities to higher ground and adopting new infrastructure, zoning and construction standards.