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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
In 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 >>
SLSC Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. in the Department of Journalism + Media has published a new co-authored book on Miami spaces during a time of changing environments due to sea level rise. The book also includes a Foreword by SLSC Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Juliet Pinto, Interim Executive Director of the School of Communication + Journalism. The book is coauthored by Dr. Moses Shumow.
At the center of this critique of neoliberalism’s role in the transformation of Miami’s neighborhoods and the city’s mediatized geographies is an emphasis on the role of news media as a means for promoting very specific, and yet often veiled, political and economic agendas. The book’s focus on Miami’s changing environment places the neoliberal messages as critical to understanding during massive alterations to how people live and work in South Florida today and tomorrow.
The extra-bright “supermoon” has been lighting up the sky all over the world, and its stronger gravitational pull is amplifying the seasonal “king tide” and creating heightened flood risks in places like South Florida. In Fort Lauderdale, king tides happen once or twice a year, bringing seawater into low-lying neighborhoods. While the supermoon is making this tide more extreme, flooding has become a persistent problem throughout South Florida, leading to aggressive and expensive solutions. On South Bayshore Lane in Coconut Grove, the bay came ashore at high tide Sunday night, with six inches of water in the street.
With rising sea levels, seasonal king tides are swamping storefronts and submerging city streets. But scientists say this month’s flooding is expected to be even worse, thanks to the so-called supermoon — when the moon is closer to the Earth than normal.
“That additional gravitational pull has caused our high tides to be a little bit higher than they would have been without that supermoon,” Dr. Troxler said.
Scientists say flooding incidents in Miami Beach have increased at least 400 percent in the last 10 years, and if Miami Beach’s sea level were to rise just two feet, the area would undergo a radical transformation. Desperate times lead to desperate measures: The city is spending at least $400 million trying to keep the tourist mecca higher and drier. Fifty temporary pump stations have been installed, and more permanent ones are on the way, similar to those in New Orleans. And Miami Beach is actually raising the city streets and elevating flood walls. Dr. Troxler says this has gone beyond a debate over climate change.
“What’s happening is that we have sea level rising in our neighborhoods and we need to do something about it now,” she told CBS.
Most people in Fort Lauderdale live about five feet above sea level. According to one study, South Florida could see a six-inch increase in sea level by 2030 — four years before the next supermoon. Read the full CBS report here >>
On Sunday, October 16th, the Sea Level Solutions Center teamed up with FIU’s Office of University Sustainability and School of Communication & Journalism, as well as the CLEO Institute and Miami-Dade’s Office of Resilience to collect data on the recent king tides that have been amplified by sea level rise. Teams of volunteers included students, teachers, local officials and concerned citizens, who came out to learn more about the link between sea level rise and higher flood levels, and to get involved with local efforts to spread awareness of hazardous community flooding. Participants were given “citizen science kits” which allowed them to measure flood depths and salinity at various low-lying sites, in order to tie sunny day flooding to sea level rise by showing that seawater from the Bay is partially overwhelming local storm water drains. The data were recorded, submitted, and displayed via the Eyes on the Rise app, which allows citizens to not only view flood projections in their local areas, but also input valuable data on flooding as it occurs on events like these. King tides represent the highest tides of the year — occurring in the spring and fall — and these seasonal high tides are only expected to be exacerbated by rising sea levels. More information can be found here >>
Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainable Research Network (UREx SRN): The Miami team has been meeting with city practitioners, beginning in April 2016 to review research co-production processes. Four key vulnerabilities correlated to city-defined extreme weather events are: poorly functioning or loss of infrastructure; risks to critical sources of local income; risks to insurance and financing of residential and commercial properties; and, the degradation of natural resources.
The research and co-production teams will consider sustainability and resiliency plans that include transportation and stormwater master plans, utility and roadway upgrades, land development regulation amendments, dune and beachfront management, green infrastructure, water quality, urban reforestation, and creation of a sustainability and resiliency fund. The Miami team is collaborating with Chambers of Commerce and Hotel Association, and following closely work of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Sea Level Rise, in addition to inviting conversations with local industry. We will continue to pursue independent community engagement grant opportunities to support city-wide initiatives.
The Sea Level Solutions Center at FIU was launched in Summer of 2015 to foster creative solutions to the complex issues of climate change through collaborative research, education, public outreach and engagement. Key partners in all of these activities include researchers from other universities, the Florida Climate Institute, scientists, practitioners, business and community leaders and the general public. More information >>