UF helps assess how climate change affects Southeast

The Everglades are shown in this Aug. 30, 2011 file photo. Rising sea levels create a risk for saltwater intrusion and flooding and have already swallowed parts of Everglades National Park. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7:45 p.m.

When we think of climate change, far-away problems may come to mind, for future generations to solve. But some scientists are starting to focus on seasonal climate change, so the concept resonates with how we are living now.


To learn more

To read the draft of the National Climate Assessment Report, go online to www.globalchange.gov. To the right side of the web page, click on "Draft Climate Assessment Report."

Talk on climate is Thursday
What: Lisa Goddard, director of international research for the Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, will speak on short-term climate change.
When: 3 p.m. Thursday
Where: Reitz Union, Room 282, UF campus

The Southeast Climate Consortium held a town hall meeting in Tampa on Tuesday to discuss its draft chapter, which is part of the National Climate Assessment Report for Congress and President Barack Obama.

Representatives of state and local agencies, law firms and groups like the Sierra Club made recommendations at the meeting that the consortium will consider in revising the report's chapter on the Southeast region of the U.S.

Dr. Jim Jones, a professor in the agricultural and biological engineering department at the University of Florida and one of the chapter's co-authors, said the consortium is helping water managers and farmers already with short-term solutions.

"If we knew that the next season is going to be wet, that changes the way we might want to grow crops or harvest forests and manage reservoirs and our public water supply," Jones said.

He added that climate change reports typically deal with what might occur in the next 50 or 100 years, but there is a need to focus on changes in the next 5-10 years.

Jones said he would also like to see a greater emphasis on local, as opposed to national decision-making, and the report should be tailored to reflect that.

"The message sent back to national climate assessment is that this type of thing needs to be packaged for regional and local use because that is where decisions are made," Jones said. "It would be pretty much up to us to set up meetings with different county governments and private sector businesses to get the word out to them."

The climate change report is done every four years as part of the Global Change Research Act, which was signed in 1990 during the George H.W. Bush administration. The current draft report should be published in 2014.

According to the draft report, the past decade has been the warmest on record in the U.S., much of it related to greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat.

"The magnitude of climate change will depend on the amount of global emissions," the report said. It also said that oceanic waters will become warmer and more acidic, and both water quantity and quality will be compromised. The Southeast region in particular faces increased competition for water supplies.

Jayantha Obeysekera, a member of the national climate assessment advisory committee and the chief modeler for the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach, said "the competition between rural agricultural areas and urban will increase," with water availability in urban areas especially strained as the population increases.

Rising sea levels also afflicts the Southeast.

"It has been rising for hundreds of years slowly, but now it's getting to the point where there are damages already taking its toll on water supplies and highways," Jones said, adding that the sea rose eight inches in the last century, escalating slightly in the past decade.

One example of adaptation, Jones said, is that U.S. Highway 64 is being raised four feet in North Carolina.

In Florida, the rising sea creates a risk for saltwater intrusion and flooding, and has already swallowed parts of Everglades National Park.

"In the short run, it's more important to double our efforts in the Everglades to counter sea level rise," Obeysekera said. "Some expensive solutions can wait another decade."

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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