BREVARD COUNTY ― 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 science 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.”
Ms. 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. Ms. 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.
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.
As a rule, climate change doesn’t come along suddenly. It builds over years, Ms. Smyth said. For example, temperature increases come very gradually.
While the average summer temperature in Florida has risen 1 degree since 1950, Smyth notes that between 1950 and 1970 the average summer temperature was 80.5. From 1991-2010 the average summer temperature was 81.4. Projections suggest summer temperatures will be above 83 from 2020-2039.
“There are a few key take-a-ways from this,” Ms. Smyth said. “The rate of change is increasing, meaning that unless we change our emissions, we will likely see hotter and hotter summers. That means climate change is not moving as slowly as it did in the past. One degree might not seem like a lot, but it is enough to trigger sea-level rise, snow melting, storms, heat waves and drought. These small changes add up over time to have large impacts. This is a sign of the Earth heating up.”
Another big takeaway from the paper, said Ms. 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.
Ms. 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.”
“Many Floridians are already tuned in to what is happening, and most people are already concerned with the trajectory of our climate," said Mr. Papaceck. "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.”