Arctic Scientists See Faster Melting, Higher Floodwaters for Tampa-St. Petersburg Area

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One of the world’s leading experts on the ice melting in the Arctic came to the Tampa Bay area today to tell what he’s seen, and to demonstrate the implications for the region. He brought with him the most detailed maps and video animations yet of exactly what could go underwater this century in this area.

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We really want to deliver a message that you, as a regular person, should care about this – because it's happening, and it's happening soon

Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL (Vocus) October 22, 2009 -- One of the world’s leading experts on the ice melting in the Arctic came to the Tampa Bay area today to tell what he’s seen, and to demonstrate the implications for the region. He brought with him the most detailed maps and video animations yet of exactly what could go underwater this century in this area.

According to Dr. Gordon Hamilton, a research professor at The University of Maine, the old estimates for rising seas due to global warming were overly optimistic. Fresh data from the poles now indicates between three and four feet or more of rise by the year 2100 or sooner, which will have much more of an impact on Tampa Bay and the nation, he said. The scientists also provided a graphic demonstration at the Florida Aquarium of how high the water could get in just a few decades.

Dr. Hamilton is active in current research on the rapid decline of the Greenland ice sheet. He presented his findings at The Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Area Scientific Information Symposium, at the Sun Spree Resort in St. Petersburg. “Nothing compares to being in a small boat, slowly sailing through the glassy waters of a glacial fjord and being surrounded by icebergs larger than the town I live in. And to know that these icebergs are being calved off the ice sheet at a rate three times faster now than just a few years ago,” said Dr. Hamilton.

Those melting icebergs will have far-reaching effects, according to the scientists. To demonstrate, Dr. Hamilton and Brooks Yeager, Executive Vice President for Policy of Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit headquartered in Portsmouth, N.H., went to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Donning a pair of hip boots, Mr. Yeager, a former Clinton administration official, stood on a boat and raised the Hula Hoop to near his knees, representing the previous estimate by the Nobel prize-winning scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that sea levels would rise approximately 17.3 inches this century. Slowly, as he spoke, he moved the hoop to his waist and then his chest, representing the new range of the rising seas now expected.

“The impacts of a meter of sea-level rise for Tampa's physical and economic infrastructure would be very dire,” said Mr. Yeager, with most of the city's transportation facilities needing protection that would cost billions of dollars. “This area would be devastated by that much change. Much of the area closest to the Bay, as well as the islands and Keys to the west and south, will be swamped with water if we don’t take action now to avert this disaster.

“We really want to deliver a message that you, as a regular person, should care about this – because it's happening, and it's happening soon,” Yeager continued. “But there are solutions, and we’re bringing those, too.”

The speakers recommended a three-pronged approach to addressing climate change:

  •     First, they advocate doing what we can to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to lessen future global warming, with personal actions at home to reduce energy use and by supporting society’s conversion to clean energy and ultra-efficient homes, vehicles, appliances, and factories.
  •     Second, support both federal legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions and reduce them through a cap-and-trade mechanism, and U.S. involvement in international efforts in Copenhagen this December to control black carbon from diesel, methane, and tropospheric ozone emissions that scientists believe are accelerating Arctic warming and melting.
  •     Finally, they said, we need to begin planning for the infrastructure changes needed to mitigate or minimize the impact on our cities and adapt as much as possible to the climate change from the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere, such as by respecting a “new flood plain” and preparing to move back from the rising ocean and building sea walls.

The event was part of the “Hip Boot Tour,” which will visit coastal cities from Miami, Fla., to Portland, Maine to inform and educate Americans about the direct impact they will face from melting ice caused by global warming. The tour will bring leading scientists from their research stations in the Arctic through the cities before culminating with events in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The stops in Tampa and St. Petersburg were sponsored by Clean Air-Cool Planet, the leading science-based, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated solely to finding and promoting solutions to global warming. It was cosponsored by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, the Florida Audubon Society, and the Florida Aquarium.

For more information, see the Hip Boot Tour website.

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