UF expert available to talk about sea-level rise, climate change impacts

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LABELLE — After many residents and business owners in LaBelle experienced heavy rains and flooding on Sunday, Sept. 20, the subject of understanding climate change and how it affects Florida became the topic of discussion on social media and around town.

Environmental changes such as warmer oceans and melting glaciers and ice sheets are raising global sea levels. Due to these changes, Florida has experienced extreme weather — increases in the intensity of hurricanes, heavier than usual rainfall and warmer temperatures. Several independent research and risk assessment models often show a risk of at least one major flood, of over 3 feet, taking place between today and 2050 in LaBelle and surrounding areas.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Climate is changing because the Earth is warming. People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s. Other heat-trapping greenhouse gases are also increasing. These gases have warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our planet about one degree during the last 50 years.”

But, what effect will these environmental changes have, in relation to human health and well-being, economic development, conservation and agricultural productivity, and the future of Florida?

“Florida’s climate is changing. The Florida peninsula has warmed more than one degree (F) during the last century. The sea is rising about 1 inch every decade, and heavy rainstorms are becoming more severe. In the coming decades, rising temperatures are likely to increase storm damages, harm coral reefs, increase the frequency of unpleasantly hot days and reduce the risk of freezing to Florida’s agriculture,” the EPA further explained.

Earlier this summer, Libby Carnahan, a UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant agent, earned her Climate Change Professionals Certification. Carnahan implements educational programs that focus on marine industries, fisheries and habitat issues, including coastal hazards and climate change issues that impact marine and coastal areas.

Carnahan is working to get the word out about the effects of these environmental changes, from increased intensity of hurricanes, using the recent Hurricane Laura as an example, and the associated rainfall rates as seen with Hurricane Sally and the overall effects on the lives of Floridians. Additionally, she is concerned about helping people understand the worries surrounding climate change, such as how sea level rise will likely result in higher storm surges than those seen historically.

If you’d like to learn more about environmental changes, such as sea level rise, and the effects they will have on our future, Carnahan can help: https://www.flseagrant.org/faculty-and-staff/carnahan/

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