Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape

Journal of Nature, Climate Change: Many sea-level rise (SLR) assessments focus on populations presently inhabiting vulnerable coastal communities, but no studies have yet attempted to model the destinations of these potentially displaced persons. With millions of potential future migrants in heavily populated coastal communities, SLR scholarship focusing solely on coastal communities characterizes SLR as primarily a coastal issue, obscuring the potential impacts in landlocked communities created by SLR-induced displacement. Here I address this issue by merging projected populations at risk of SLR with migration systems simulations to project future destinations of SLR migrants in the United States. I find that unmitigated SLR is expected to reshape the US population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants—even after accounting for potential adaptation. These results provide the first glimpse of how climate change will reshape future population distributions and establish a new foundation for modelling potential migration destinations from climate stressors in an era of global environmental change. Read the full article here >>

Seagrasses at World Heritage Site still suffer from heat wave

Massive seagrass beds in Western Australia’s Shark Bay have showed little recovery from a devastating 2011 heat wave, according to a new study. The team’s findings demonstrate how certain vital ecosystems may change drastically in a warming climate.

“We were studying a relatively pristine ecosystem, but in summer 2011 we had the hottest water temperatures on record at the time, and we saw 70-90 percent losses of seagrasses at our study sites. No one expected it to be that bad,” said Rob Nowicki, a researcher at Mote Marine Laboratory who conducted the fieldwork while a doctorate student in Marine Sciences at Florida International University. “After our colleagues documented the losses, we wanted to know how much the ecosystem might recover over a few years. If you take a punch and get up quickly, you’re ready for the next punch. But our study has suggested this system took a punch, and in the short term, it has not gotten back up.”

Several years after a harsh 2011 heat wave, a once-lush seagrass bed still struggles to recover. Read the full FIU News article here >>

Miami’s Fight Against Rising Seas

Florida State Road A1A runs the entire length of Florida along the ocean, making it vulnerable to flooding – as shown here in Fort Lauderdale in 2013 (Credit: Alamy)

BBC Future: Not only are sea levels rising, but the pace seems to be accelerating. That’s been noted before – but what it means for south Florida was only recently brought home in a University of Miami study. “After 2006, sea level rose faster than before – and much faster than the global rate,” says the lead author Shimon Wdowinski, who is now with Florida International University. From 3mm per year from 1998 to 2005, the rise off Miami Beach tripled to that 9mm rate from 2006.

An uptick also happened between the 1930s and 1950s, says Wdowinski, making some question whether this is a similar oscillation. But that’s probably wishful thinking. “It’s not necessarily what we see now. This warming of the planet has been growing for a while,” he says. “It’s probably a different process than what happened 60 years ago.”

Read the full article by the BBC Future here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise

What We Are Talking About With Everglades Restoration

Located about 40 miles west of Miami, Water Conservation Area 3 is intended to help water managers control wet-season flooding and prevent dry-season droughts (Photo Courtesy of WLRN).

WLRN: Let’s start with what we’re losing:

One of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, from sawgrass to cypress trees, apple snails to alligators. The historic home of Florida’s Miccosukee and Seminole tribes. A national park.

The ecosystem that ensures fresh drinking water for more than 8 million Floridians.

Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas talked about all this in an interview in 1983.

“It was a marvelous expanse of flat green land with its strangeness and its openness and its birds,” she said. “So utterly unique, you see. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”

Read the full article by WLRN here: http://wlrn.org/post/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-everglades-restoration

Coastal Everglades, deprived of fresh water, near unhealthy ‘tipping point’

Miami Herald: At the bottom of the Everglades along the mouth of the Shark River, a towering mangrove forest stands in a place few people outside anglers and researchers ever see: at the edge of a vast shallow bay where the salty sea and freshwater marshes conspired to erect a cathedral of trees. In the current fight over restoration, this isolated region often gets overlooked. While Lake Okeechobee pollution to the north grabs headlines and gets the attention of Florida lawmakers, it’s actually here where damage may be most profound.

For the last 16 years, nearly 80 scientists and their students from 29 organizations — including all the state’s major universities, the National Park Service and the South Florida Water Management District — have embarked on one of the longest and largest studies ever conducted on South Florida’s coastal Everglades. They now fear the system may be at what lead investigator Evelyn Gaiser calls a “tipping point,” where change is happening faster than scientists expected and spinning into a self-perpetuating cycle of decline.

The mangroves ringing the coast are moving inland, overtaking vital freshwater marshes. Growing swathes of peat, the rich mucky soil that formed over a few thousand years, are collapsing. And periphyton, the spongy brown mats of native algae that form the foundation of the food chain, is shrinking.
“We have these tipping points,” says Evelyn Gaiser, lead investigator and Florida International University aquatic ecologist. “And when you’re on the edge of a major state change that seems irreversible, calling attention to this problem and doing whatever we can to remediate it is really important.”

NY Times: As Climate Change Accelerates, Floating Cities Look Like Less of a Pipe Dream

Photo from the Seasteading Institute: A rendering of the artificial floating island project in French Polynesia. The project has raised about $2.5 million from more than 1,000 interested donors.

The New York Times: You might call it a Noah’s Ark for an era of melting polar ice sheets — An audacious plan to respond to climate change by building a city of floating islands in the South Pacific is moving forward, with the government of French Polynesia agreeing to consider hosting the islands in a tropical lagoon.

The project is being put forward by a California nonprofit, the Seasteading Institute, which has raised about $2.5 million from more than 1,000 interested donors. Randolph Hencken, the group’s executive director, said work on the project could start in French Polynesia as early as next year, pending the results of some environmental and economic feasibility studies.

“We have a vision that we’re going to create an industry that provides floating islands to people who are threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr. Hencken said.

The group’s original founders included Peter Thiel, a billionaire investor and prominent supporter of President Trump, although Mr. Thiel is no longer donating to the institute, Mr. Hencken said.

Mr. Hencken said that the project’s pilot islands would cost a total of $10 million to $50 million and house a few dozen people and that the initial residents would most likely be middle-income buyers from the developed world. He added that the institute was seeking to build the islands in what would be a nautical version of a special economic zone and that it would showcase innovations in solar power, sustainable aquaculture and ocean-based wind farms.

NOAA: 2016 marks three consecutive years of heat for the planet

Fort McMurray Wildfire – Chris Schwarz, Alberta

The following report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) details findings that the past three years have seen record highs in global average temperatures, with 2016 as the warmest year on record. Read the full report on NOAA’s website >>

With a boost from El Nino, 2016 began with a bang. For eight consecutive months, January to August, the globe experienced record warm heat.  With this as a catalyst, the 2016 globally averaged surface temperature ended as the highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F or 1.69 degrees F above the 20th century average. This surpassed last year’s record by 0.07 degrees F. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

Despite the cooling influence of a weak La Nina in the latter part of the year, the year ended with the third warmest December on record for the globe, with an average temperature 1.42 degrees F above the 20th century average.  In a separate analysis of global temperature data released at the same time, scientists from NASA also found 2016 to be the warmest year on record.

More noteworthy findings from 2016:

  • The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record, 1.35 degree F above average.

  • The globally averaged land surface temperature was the highest on record, 2.57 degrees F above average.

  • North America had its warmest year on record; South America and Africa had their second; Asia and Europe had their third; and Australia had its fifth.

  • The average Arctic sea ice extent for the year was 3.92 million square miles, the smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

  • The average Antarctic sea ice extent for the year was 4.31 million square miles, the second smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

Interdisciplinary Sea Level Solutions Research and Design Studio scheduled for Spring 2017

No other place in the nation has higher risk to assets than Miami, Florida, and Florida ranks very high among states that are least prepared for climate change impacts. The gravest climate change impact and threat to Miami is from sea level rise. Rising sea levels are creating challenges for both natural and human communities, and will impact the lowest elevation communities first. Understanding the causes, effects, and responses to sea level rise requires an interdisciplinary approach to short- and long-term strategies for mitigating the causes and effects of sea level rise. A holistic, system-oriented approach is posed that provides design and analysis toward decision-support for how we can adapt and even mitigate sea level rise now and into the future.

The Sea Level Solutions Center, in partnership with FIU by Design and faculty from Colleges of Architecture and the Arts, Engineering and Computer Sciences, Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, and College of Arts, Sciences, and Education, is convening its second year of the Interdisciplinary Sea Level Solutions Research and Design Studio. This studio will provide the basis for an interdisciplinary framework for developing and conducting design and analyses for the natural-built environment under scenarios of future sea level rise and storm surge.

Faculty from multiple FIU colleges are among instructors who will provide lectures, training and analytical tools. Lectures from other leading scholars will be provided by webcast. The studio is scheduled to include a scoping charrette that engages stakeholders from the outset to guide the vision of the studio products. The course will culminate in delivery of several products that enable decision-support for an “optimized solution”, with information, data and analyses for each solution. The course is open to Honors College undergraduate students with instructor consent and graduate students from any discipline. Please contact Dr. Tiffany Troxler (troxlert@fiu.edu) with any questions about the course.

The dark side to solar power

Photo courtesy of PCGS
Photo courtesy of PCGS newsletter

Have you ever thought about the expiration date of solar panels? The Kiran C. Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS) at the University of South Florida recently posted a bit of information on the lifetime of solar power panels, and the need to include them in recycling plans:

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are made with heavy metals and other toxic materials. They cannot simply be thrown away, because they are so harmful to the environment and to people. That is precisely why PCGS Alumna Karla Kemp is talking about the End of Life Cycle Management of Solar Panels at the Renewable Energy World International conference on December 14th, in Orlando, FL. Photovoltaic cells (otherwise known as solar cells) are cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV solar panels became widely available between the 1970’s and the 1990’s and with an average lifespan of 25-30 years. Now, we are seeing the first big group of them reaching the end of life.

“With high level of toxicity involved, standard end of life waste management practices are not feasible, leaving a serious problem for waste management and public health concerns,” Karla said. “Recycling options are dependent on factors such as regulatory framework, panel design, recycling process, material recovery and price, thus creating the necessity for uniform regulatory practices.”

End of life management for these PV solar panels is essential to further the renewable energy movement. “Research and development in new technological advances will enable significant improvements in technological efficiency, availability, and successfully be able to eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels,” Karla said. “[All] while eliminating potential environmental impacts, enhancing the market share of renewable power.” See here for the news post.

Sea level rise and the Florida Everglades

gaiser-podcast-slr-and-fceIn this week’s episode of the America Adapts podcast, FIU ecologist Evelyn Gaiser talks about what makes the Everglades so unique, and so vitally important to the inhabitants of South Florida. Dr. Gaiser also discusses what it means to conduct research on climate change and sea level rise in the political minefield that exists in Florida. Many local communities – especially Miami – are taking action and relying on experts at FIU to provide guidance on adaptation planning for sea level rise. Dr. Gaiser describes how FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center will help communities prepare for projected climate impacts, and how everyone can get involved. Learn more and listen to the podcast here >>