Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) part of group to guess how sea will rise in region

From: Florida Today by: Jim Waymer

By 2014, they’ll make those precise predictions for regions that include vulnerable coastlines such as Cape Canaveral (pictured), Fort Pierce, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as coastal Georgia, the Carolinas and New Jersey, FIT professor Ben Horton said.

By 2014, they’ll make those precise predictions for regions that include vulnerable coastlines such as Cape Canaveral (pictured), Fort Pierce, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as coastal Georgia, the Carolinas and New Jersey, FIT professor Ben Horton said. / File photo
Sea levels increase because the ocean’s volume expands as it warms. More freshwater also flows from land as ice, mountain glaciers and frozen soil melt. And the relative ocean level rises as land sinks either naturally or from groundwater overuse.

A Florida Institute of Technology professor and his students will take part in a $1.5 million study to predict sea-level rise in Cape Canaveral and several other regions on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and then spell out ways communities can adapt.

“What we’re trying to do has never been done before,” said Ben Horton, a geologist at University of Pennsylvania who’s leading the study. “What we’re trying to do for the first time ever is produce regional projections of rise in sea-level.”

By 2014, they’ll make those precise predictions for regions that include vulnerable coastlines such as Cape Canaveral, Fort Pierce, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as coastal Georgia, the Carolinas and New Jersey, Horton said.

Researchers at seven universities will share the grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Office.

FIT professor Ken Lindeman will receive $170,000 over three years to compile a summary of tools for transferring technical information about adapting to sea-level rise to policymakers.

“This is for the average Joe,” said Lindeman, a professor in Florida Tech’s Department of Education and Interdisciplinary Studies.

“Basically, people just don’t know what’s out there,” Lindeman explained. “In discipline after discipline, excellent documents are produced and forgotten. ... They get buried so deep they can’t even collect dust.”

Lindeman and his students will expand upon a collection of documents about climate adaptation they’ve been amassing online.

“Many countries have very well-developed climate science and management initiatives under way. There is much we can learn from work being done elsewhere, often in other languages,” Lindeman said.

The researchers will combine empirical and modeled sea-level rise scenarios with hurricane and storm surge models to predict how much worse future storm surge will be.

Sea levels rise because the ocean’s volume expands as it warms. Freshwater from land also contributes to the rise when ice, mountain glaciers and frozen soil melt. Land sinks naturally or from groundwater overuse as well, adding to the relative rise between land and sea.

At current sea-level rise estimates of 2 to 3 millimeters per year in Florida, the ocean would take more than 400 years to rise by 4 feet.

But fire, sewer, roads and other critical infrastructure along the Space Coast could be compromised by half that amount of rise, something that could happen by 2050, a recent study of Satellite Beach suggests.

“The ranges of rates of change vary among sites and according to different tools,” Lindeman said.

“But the majority of tools being used and the majority of sites suggests an accelerating sea-level rise in the latter part of the century.”

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com.

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