CBS News: Lawmakers act to curb “scary” trend in Everglades – but another danger lurks

Photo by CBS News

The Everglades is the largest wetland of its kind in North America, but it’s been under assault for generations by residential development, water diversion and pesticide runoff. Now, a massive proposal is one step closer to putting more fresh water back into the ecosystem that covers more than 2,000 square miles of south Florida. Fresh water from the Kissimmee River used to flow south into Lake Okeechobee. During the rainy season, the overflow would go through the Everglades all the way to Florida Bay. But development has blocked much of that natural flow. Experts report that about 50 percent of the Everglades have been lost, and the rest is salvageable by restoring natural flow.

The diversion and disruption of that water are largely responsible for toxic algae blooms in recent years. Now, nearly 20 years after a major Everglades restoration plan was first agreed upon, the Florida Senate this month finally approved a $1.5 billion reservoir to collect and send some of the overflow back through the Everglades.

“This allows us to restore somewhat of that connection so that we can provide fresh water down to Everglades National Park and especially Florida Bay,” wetland ecologist Steve Davis of the Everglades Foundation said, adding that it’s “recreating the river of grass.”

But beneath the surface, another danger lurks – sea level rise. More salt water is seeping in. Left unchecked, it could one day taint the drinking water supply for 8 million people in south Florida. Dr. Tiffany Troxler, Director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, uses one of her Everglades research projects to demonstrate how salt water is already damaging vital sawgrass plants.

“When we came out here and measured the salt, it was about three times higher than what we thought we would see,” Troxler said.

She said that makes re-introduction of fresh water all the more important. While many think the Everglades are beyond the tipping point, she remains hopeful.

“I like to say that we got ourselves into this mess – we can figure out how to get ourselves out of it,” Troxler said.

Read the full CBS News article, and check out the video here.

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 >>

CBS: Supermoon elevates flooding risk in South Florida

supermoon-flooded-street-tiffany-troxler-cbsThe 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.

“By 2030, we expect up to another six inches of sea level rise to occur,” Dr. Tiffany Troxler, director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, told CBS. “We might see another six inches on top of this.”

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.

supermoon-floods-storefrontsScientists 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 >>

Dr. Susan Jacobson Selected as Inductee to the CLEO Leadership Circle

jacobson-200x300 Dr. Susan Jacobson, Associate Professor in the School of Communication + Journalism’s Department of Journalism + Media, has been selected as an inductee to the CLEO Leadership Circle. CLEO (Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities) is one of the largest climate engagement organizations in South Florida, reaching more than 40,000 citizens with their initiatives. Dr. Jacobson was selected for this honor based on her work as the Project Lead of the Eyes on the Rise Sea Level Toolbox app. The app lets residents enter their address into a Google Map and, with a visualization developed by FIU’s GIS Center, allows them to see the potential impact of sea level rise on their neighborhoods.

Dr. Jacobson developed a crowdsourcing slsday-students2-300x238tool for the app, which lets citizens document sunny day flooding during the King Tides in South Florida. In collaboration with the Sea Level Solutions Center, she has been involved in organizing citizen scientists to visit low-lying areas at the time of the King Tides, take photos and videos of flooding, measure water depth and measure water salinity.

More than 60 FIU students and citizens gathered at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on October 16 to receive training on how to document floods during Sea Level Solutions Day, and worked in groups to document flooding around Miami. You can see a map of some of their work here.

Click here to see more from the article in CARTA News >>

Sea Level Solutions Day success

flooded-lincoln-rdOn 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: year 1 in review

miami-urexsrnUrban 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 >>

SLSC and community representatives meet to face the challenges of sea level rise in Miami

fiu-graham-centerFlorida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center (SLSC) recently hosted an event with the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, Defend Our Future and Voto Latino to discuss the challenges of climate change and sea level rise in our local communities. Featured speakers included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. As “ground zero” for sea level rise, Miami and the surrounding region have not only been focused on how sea level rise will impact its communities, but more importantly, what can be done about it and what is being done to ensure a sustainable and prosperous Miami in the 22nd century. As a “Solutions Center” at FIU, the SLSC is committed to developing tangible and meaningful solutions to this global issue through interdisciplinary collaboration and science-based adaptation and mitigations strategies.

A legacy not yet written: FIU researchers believe sea level rise is a problem that can be solved

SLR-Miami close-upTiffany Troxler takes a right turn from Miami Beach’s Purdy Avenue onto 20th Street and spots her destination, a perfect example of the consequences of sea level rise.

“Right there,” she says. “Do you see the two steps leading into the Publix? It used to be seven steps.”

It’s hard to fathom it, looking at the stairway, just a couple long, black-and-gray tile steps leading up to the entrance of the supermarket. But the city of Miami Beach has built up the road so high to prevent flooding that the staircase had to be shortened by five steps. Troxler points out other buildings that now sit several feet below the new street level; stairways now lead down to their entrances, patios and front walkways. New drains to funnel away water sit near doorways. Then Troxler points to an industrial-looking, squat structure smack in the middle of the road, bannisters directing traffic around it.

“And that is a pump station. It will be one of 60 pumps all around the beach,” she says. During high tides and heavy rains, when many Miami Beach neighborhoods used to end up swamped, the new pumps should keep the streets dry by pumping out 14,000 gallons of water a minute.

This novel approach to keeping the ocean from swamping neighborhoods is exactly the kind of thing Troxler is working on in the new FIU Sea Level Solutions Center. The goal of the center, above all else, will be collaborations and tangible solutions to combat the effects of global climate change.

“If you think about it, we put ourselves in this mess,” said Troxler, an aquatic ecologist in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education and director of the center. “If we put ourselves in this, we can come up with a way to get ourselves out of it.” Read More >>

FIU Sea Level Solutions Center: Diverse Research for a Complex Problem

Flooded Miami streetWhile many residents of South Florida understand that Miami-Dade County is susceptible to inclement weather, they may not be aware that MDC ranks among the world’s most vulnerable urban regions in regards to assets exposed to coastal flooding aggravated by sea level rise and hurricanes. Left unchecked, a complex mix of conditions in South Florida could have devastating ramifications. Florida International University has taken initiative to address these events through research, teaching, service, and engagement. Headed by Florida native Dr. Tiffany Troxler, the Sea Level Solutions Center at FIU strives to be a resource for everyone—scientists, educators, city planners, businesses, citizens—who want to be kept abreast of sea level related issues. Read more of the INYBN article here >>

Taking the high ground–and developing it

Louis Fernandez walks along a flooded Collins Ave. from his apartment to a nearby restaurant, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Miami Beach, Fla. The street flooding was in part caused by high tides due to the lunar cycle, according to the National Weather Service. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Louis Fernandez walks along a flooded Collins Ave. from his apartment to a nearby restaurant, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Miami Beach, Fla. The street flooding was in part caused by high tides due to the lunar cycle, according to the National Weather Service. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI—Sea levels are rising here at the rate of an inch a year, and if trends continue, they will rise six feet well before the end of this century. By then, the ocean will have subsumed the city’s low-lying, densely-populated areas—the wealthy coastal enclave of Coral Gables, much of Little Havana, downtown Miami, and of course Miami Beach.

There is nothing Miami can do to stop this. Even if global emissions dropped dramatically today, the city would still be locked in for 15 feet of sea-level rise over the next 200 years, says Jeff Onsted, an associate professor at Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center. The rising water won’t be produced by a single weather event, but will gradually become a part of residents’ lives. And while major cities such as New York can build seawalls, Miami is defenseless because it’s built on porous limestone that would allow ocean water to come up from under the city. Already, yards and streets remain flooded even days after rainstorms have rolled through the city. Read more >>