Scientist, city planners collaborate to address Tampa sea rise

Urban forestry in Tampa Bay, Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While most Floridians are focused on hurricanes and the flooding they cause, few realize that Tampa Bay sea levels are rising each year. The rise in sea levels will impact everything from homes to bridges to businesses for the next century, scientists say.

Despite the warning, city planners have been stymied in their efforts to create strategies to combat sea level rise because of varying projections from different agencies. Thus, scientists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences formed a committee to offer a unified projection of sea level rise. Now, the committee has released a report detailing projections through the year 2100.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has accepted the recommendations for distribution to local governments.

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel, comprised of scientists and regional planners, met to discuss rising sea levels that affect Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties. “Our main objective was to write a recommendation for sea level projections to be used for planning purposes,” said Libby Carnahan, Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County.

The group, working with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council One Bay Resilient Communities Working Group, sounded the alarm that rising sea levels had far-reaching implications. The sea level rises about one inch a decade, which is predicted to do a lot of damage, Carnahan said.

“The rising sea level will cause flooding of streets, homes and businesses, hospitals, schools and emergency shelters,” Carnahan said. “We are predicting shoreline and beach erosion, impacts to the operations of coastal drainage systems, intrusion of saltwater on groundwater and shifts in animal habitats.”

Nevertheless, local governments in the Tampa Bay region should feel confident that there are viable opportunities to adapt and increase the region’s resilience to sea level rise and other coastal hazards, Carnahan said. “Our report offers common projections of sea level rise,” she said. “So, this helps us coordinate planning and policy efforts to protect public safety, health and quality of life.”

The Tampa Bay region, with nearly 700 miles of shoreline and 3.2 million residents—many of whom live near Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico—is highly vulnerable to the potential effects of sea level rise, Carnahan said. The Tampa Bay regional economy is closely tied to both the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, and is valued at $170 billion, with $51 billion directly influenced by the bay itself, she said.

In a report recently published by the World Bank, Tampa was identified as one of the ten coastal metropolitan areas most vulnerable to sea level rise and subsequent flooding. Cities simply can’t afford to do nothing, Carnahan said.

“The economic costs of inaction in the face of sea level rise must be weighed carefully against the potential costs of implementing adaptation strategies,” she said. “Doing nothing will be even more costly in the long run.”

 

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Source: Libby Carnahan, 727-453-6522, lcarnahan@ufl.edu