TX – Penrose/Chapman Coastal, Day 1

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April 15, 2013 by Dr. G

Let the conference begin!

Conference Convener John Anderson welcomes the group to kick off the conference

Conference Convener John Anderson welcomes the group to kick off the conference

John Anderson from Rice University, one of the conference conveners, started us bright and early at 8AM with a welcome and introduction to the week ahead.  It is clear that all of us are in for an intense yet intellectually challenging conference, with a fieldtrip on Wednesday afternoon to tour Galveston‘s coast.

Today (Monday) had fourteen talks discussing the record of sea-level rise. The talks were given by researchers from institutions such as the University of Florida, Tulane University, Vanderbilt University, University of Massachusetts, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.  My students can even appreciate some of the talks, based on the titles (seeing as we just talked about “what makes a good title” in class last week!):

  • Holocene sea level derived from microbial mats
  • Subsidence and sea-level rise: a dual threat to the U.S. Gulf Coast
  • The sedimentary record of severe storm frequency along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua for the last 7,000 years

Some of the information today was a “refresher” of what I already knew, some material was a new application of information I had learned in the past, and some data were completely new to me.  All of it was certainly exciting!  But let me take a step back for students that haven’t had me for an oceanography or natural disasters course yet….

Here’s what it boils down to – sea level is rising.  The challenge for scientists is to measure and report the data, to explain the cause(s) and to make predictions for the future.  It is not as easy as you may think!  Glacial ice is melting, coastal areas are undergoing subsidence, compaction of mud/sediments occurs in nature and during sampling… there are so many variables to account for.  And, of course, the measured rate of relative sea-level rise in one region cannot necessarily be directly applied to another geographic region.  There are so many variables, it makes your head spin!  But measuring techniques are getting better – everything from GPS to fossil foraminifera, scientists are making progress.

Students – definitely check out the multimedia interactive included in the New York Times article Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines.

My favorite talk of the day was by Dr. Hal Wanless of the University of Miami (full disclosure – I attended UM-RSMAS for graduate school and know Dr. Wanless from “back in the day”).  In addition to catching up with Dr. Wanless over breakfast, I really enjoyed hearing his talk about the south Florida platform and pulses of sea-level rise being measured from samples collected in the Florida Everglades.  In fact, Dr. Wanless even included data from Sarah Gelsanliter, one of my office mates in graduate school!  What everyone should remember from this talk – since 1930, there has been a 10-inch rise in south Florida sea level (Yikes! A little too quick for comfort for me).

At the end of the day, the group agreed there are components of sea-level rise we have consensus on, and some parts that we do not.  We still have alot of work to do, and we need to continue to communicate as clearly as possible what we do know.

Did I say “end of the day”?  OK, one last event was the poster session.  More on the posters in tomorrow’s recap!  Tomorrow’s talks will be a series of case studies focusing on the coastal response to accelerated sea-level rise and variations in sediment supply.

One more haunting fact to leave you with… there is a true acceleration of sea-level rise, a five- to six-fold increase on the past couple of centuries.  Double yikes.

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