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Some climate change questions answered as hurricane season peaks, wildfires rage

Wildfires out west? Check. Tropical storms or hurricanes hovering – seemingly everywhere? Check. Those are just two of the potentially catastrophic events caused in part by climate change, say University of Florida experts.

“Our climate is changing and, with that, comes more extreme events,” said Ashley Smyth, an assistant professor of soil and water sciences at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead. “Just look at the most recent hurricanes — as they cross the Gulf, they gain energy. That is because of the warm water. As the air stays warmer longer, so does the water. What we also need to be concerned about is the heat and what that means for human health.”

Smyth wrote about climate change along with a Ph.D. graduate from the soil and water sciences department at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Smyth; Josh Papacek; Holly Abeels, a UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant agent in Brevard County and Alicia Betancourt, director of UF/IFAS Extension Monroe County just published a new UF/IFAS Extension document that puts climate change in an easy-to-read, science-based Q&A format.

Here are a few of the questions that the document answers:

  • How do we know the climate is changing?
  • What are greenhouse gasses and where do they come from?
  • Is climate changing in Florida, and what are the long-term projections?
  • Why are sea levels rising?

The document stemmed from a project they worked on last year with Thriving Earth Exchange. Residents and employees of the city of Hallandale Beach attended a forum, Papaceck said. With the forum, they aimed to increase climate literacy for the city staff, and they held a forum for staff to ask questions about climate change directly to scientists.

Another big takeaway from the paper, says Smyth, is that climate change is costly. It also can change growing seasons for agriculture by affecting pests, time and duration of rainfall and fertilizer use.

“Those can impact businesses’ bottom lines,” she said.

Smyth sees some positive signs in human activity that might change the trend toward global warming.

“I also think it is important to remind everyone that there is still hope,” she said. “More people are concerned, and there is evidence that people are taking action to reduce their carbon emissions, one potential cause of global warming.”

Added Papaceck: “Many Floridians are already tuned in to what is happening, and most people are already concerned with the trajectory of our climate. We wanted to not only answer any lingering questions they may have about the science of climate change and what that means for Florida, but also provide some tools and resources to on how they can act now. The sooner we act, the smaller the impacts.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

 

 

 

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