Underwater Paradise: Florida Scientists Show Seas Rising
Rising sea levels along Florida’s coastline are a harbinger of major changes underway in the state’s geography, say scientists. They are watching trees fall to encroaching saltwater, mangroves invade freshwater marshes, and inland marshes morph into seawater ponds. “I don’t think anybody’s really pinned down numbers that make sense yet,” says Ed Chesney, Clearwater’s environmental manager.
Mike Savarese, a Florida Gulf Coast University marine science professor, reports that the historical rise of 1½ to 3 inches per century in the Ten Thousand Islands now is increasing at a rate equivalent to 15 to almost 20 inches a century. Holly Greening, of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, has charts tracking a rise of an inch a decade since measurements began in the 1940s.
Artifacts 10,000 years old, in Sarasota County, indicate that the sea there used to be 30 to 40 feet below its current level. At some point, rising sea levels will pose a threat to our drinking water supply, as saltwater infiltrates subterranean aquifers. An extreme rise could make barrier islands unlivable.
“People have a hard time accepting that this is happening here,” observes Jack Putz. This University of Florida professor has led a Levy County research effort since 1992. Seeing the evidence firsthand, he says, “brings a global problem right into our own backyard.”