Scientists: Climate clock is ticking in
Pine trees, coral reefs, tourism and our drinking water supply are under the gun of climate change.
The warming of the planet means
" Sea levels are rising twice as fast as once predicted, eroding shorelines.
" Higher temperatures are shifting tropical conditions farther north.
" Oceans are more acidic.
" Seas are hotter.
" Droughts may be increasing, while periods of intense rainfall are farther apart.
While the long-range effects are likely to affect our grandchildren, the near-term effects are whittling away at our environment with the power of spring tides.
As evidence mounts that the earth is warming faster than once predicted,
Those policymakers may be ready to listen.
In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Charlie Crist called climate change ``one of the most important issues that we will face this century.
'With almost 1,200 miles of coastline, and the majority of our citizens living near that coastline,
At the first in a series of presentations to Florida's Cabinet, University of Florida ecologist Stephen Mulkey warned of the problems that lie ahead unless Florida reduces emissions and adapts: Cities will have to shell out big bucks for seawalls and flood-control structures; agriculture will be hurt by drought; insurance companies will refuse to provide coverage in areas vulnerable to greater storm damage; coral bleaching and acidic seas will devastate sport and commercial fishing.
Whether climate change will increase the frequency or intensity of hurricanes remains controversial. Whatever the effect on storms, evidence is mounting that climate change is quickening and big changes may happen in surprising jumps.
'It's not a linear increase, but a very rapid increase in the last 20 years,' said Tom Crisman with the
Sea levels are rising twice as fast as early computer models predicted, says Brian Soden, climate change scientist at the
'A real concern is that the models are underestimating the rate of rise,' he said. ``If we have another decade of [satellite] records, we may have a better idea.'
'It's running right at a foot per century, and we're 75 years into it,' Wanless said.
On a barrier island, such as
On Sugarloaf Key, ghostly pine stumps sit like grave markers among salt-tolerant buttonwoods, bearing witness to the insistent upward push of salt water.
Salt-sensitive pines have migrated to the highest ground on Big Pine Key, says Mike Ross, ecologist at the
'The whole forest is going,' he said. ``It was quite alarming, because in the last five years, the rate at which it is dying has increased more than we predicted.'
Drainage of the
Rising seas also threaten
Saltwater intrusion into the eastern edge of Biscayne aquifer already has caused newer well fields to be moved west, says Doug Yoder, director of the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. As seas get higher, 'one expectation would be that we might have to deal with more brackish water as our water supply,' he said, raising the cost of making water fit for drinking.
Flooding, already a problem in urban
'If sea level goes up, [water managers] need to keep groundwater levels that much higher to keep salt water from intruding, but you get to the point where groundwaters are so high, there's no place for storm water to go,' Yoder said. ``So we would get more frequent flooding from what might now be a normal rain.'
Temperatures in 20
That means more exotic pest plants, such as melaleucas, are moving north, as well as more insects and plant diseases.
'In North Florida, it means a longer growing season and, on the negative side, more bugs,' said Len
And as the tropics expand, there will be demands for more electricity and air conditioning, he said.
Half of all the carbon dioxide released is being absorbed by the oceans, says Chris Langdon, a scientist at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School who first revealed the threat to corals from ocean acidification in 2000.
That CO2 is causing oceans to become more acidic, reducing concentrations of calcium and carbonate ions used by shellfish, corals and other marine creatures to build shells.
THREATS TO REEFS
As concentrations of CO2 in the oceans increase exponentially, Langdon expects a 50 percent to 80 percent decline in reef formation.
'I don't think they can hack it,' he said.
Threats to the coral reefs are also threats to both tourism and commercial fishing, two key
'The outer reefs are most vulnerable to climate change and bleaching,' said Billy Causey, director of the sanctuary. ``In the last two decades, they have shown enormous declines.'
In some areas only 2 percent of the corals are living, while the average is less than 10 percent.
The reef system, which is a refuge for commercially important fish such as snapper and grouper, now has two important components,
Beginning May 9, scientists, professors and politicians will meet in
Crisman, co-chair of that conference, says there is a lag time between when we take action and when we get an ecosystem reaction.
'If we were to stop all air contamination now, we won't get cleaned up for decades,' he said.
'But it's not all doom and gloom,' he added. ``If I believed that, I'd shoot myself. When you take an action, a system puts down a new memory. From my perspective, [halting climate change] is about lag time, not doom and gloom.'
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