Sea level rise: It’s no longer a nuisance, it’s a reality

“Sea levels have risen about 6 inches in St. Petersburg since WWII… Does it matter?”

Dr. Gary Mitchum, Professor of Physical Oceanography and the Associate Dean in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, along with Claude Tankersley, the Public Work Administrator for the city of St. Petersburg, seem to think so, especially when most who live there are just 10 feet off the ground. Since it does matter, how is this coastal city preparing for what they don’t know?

Claude Tankersley and Dr. Gary Mitchum speak to guests who attended the event. | Jamey Hitchcock

Claude Tankersley and Dr. Gary Mitchum speak to guests who attended the event. Photo by Jamey Hitchcock

USF St. Petersburg hosted Re-Imagine…Rising Oceans on Wednesday to engage the community in a conversation about climate change and how it’s affecting sea level rise. Mitchum and Tankersley were the featured speakers and work together on many projects detecting and predicting the causes and effects of rising sea levels. Their main objective is working with the city of St. Petersburg to implement changes and preparing the community to deal with climate change.

Dozens of St. Petersburg residents joined the conversation concerning the paradox of “planning for what we don’t know.” Mitchum discussed a new approach that involves collaborating with scientists, not simply delivering a problem and expecting a solution. 

Mitchum shared a picture of St. Petersburg street drains that are supposed to take in water overflow. Instead, water was pouring out of the drains and flooding the streets. This is a sunny day high tide flooding event, or localized flooding, that is stressing the city’s infrastructure.  According to Mitchum, more of these events are occurring due to the increase in the sea level height. 

Tankersley added how sea level rise affects home infrastructures. Even if you aren’t living near the coast, the road base is deteriorating underneath, which in turn causes more potholes in the road after heavy rainfall. 

How do we address these issues?

“Adapt and fortify,” said Tankersley.  

This will cost billions of dollars, however, and we have to start preparing today. Tankersley said we should work to make the city’s infrastructure  more resilient. But how do we design for the future? That is the current paradox.

Tankersley said St. Petersburg is working on implementing an Integrated Sustainability Action Plan that will help gear the city towards 100 percent clean energy. This includes performances of vulnerability assessments of the water system, waste water system and reclaimed water to help plan for a more sustainable future for the next 50 years. 

To join the conversation and give feedback, consider participating in Vision 2050. This is an opportunity for the community to share their ideas and suggestions for enhancing the city. The community can utilize rain barrels to catch run off and excess rain or create rain gardens that treat polluted stormwater runoff and earn credits from the city. 

The speakers ended the discussion with a Q & A and advised everyone to become more involved by utilizing discussion boards, attending meetings, reading updates on climate changes and visiting for more details on ways St. Petersburg has been addressing these issues.

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