Interest in climate change and sea level rise has grown considerably in the past decade. Floridians need reliable scientific information about potential changes so that they can make decisions and policies that are economically beneficial and environmentally sound. This is particularly important given the wide range of opinions and, often conflicting, interpretations of available evidence that are presented to the public.
The Florida Climate Institute is broadening to increase the effectiveness of current collaborations among universities and state and local agencies in Florida. It will promote additional cooperation with the private sector with a Florida-centric focus to help develop a climate-ready workforce and to provide information about the climate-related risks that are unique to the state. This broadened institute will bring together outstanding scientists from multiple universities to conduct research needed by Floridians on climate change and sea level rise, and it will provide education on economic and environmental opportunities and risks.
The FCI was originally developed with the goal of adding complementary expertise from other universities in Florida. A grant from the Board of Governors further emphasized the need for universities and external stakeholders throughout the state to collaborate. The Florida Climate Institute will now be expanded to include UCF, the University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami.
The institute brings together outstanding scientists from each university, along with the University of Florida and Florida State University, to conduct needed research to provide education on economic and environmental opportunities and risks associated with climate change. The coalition also increases the capacity of respective programs to compete for national and international funding programs and is working with the private sector to help develop a climate-ready workforce.
UCF’s alignment with the institute brings to the group the expertise of Scott C. Hagen, professor of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and the director of UCF’s Coastal Hydroscience Analysis, Modeling and Predictive Simulations Laboratory (CHAMPS Lab), and Reed Noss, the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in Biology.
Hagen and Noss each lead research groups with extensive experience in the coastal dynamics of sea level rise.
Hagen’s CHAMPS Lab is conducting research on the long-term effects of rising sea level along the Florida Panhandle and Alabama and Mississippi coasts with a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The lab also is working on many projects related to the coastal dynamics of sea level rise. Several UCF faculty members, including biology professors Linda Walters and John Weishampel; Denise DeLorme, professor in the Nicholson School of Communication; Provost Professor George Yeh and Assistant Professor Dingbao Wang of the Department of Civil, Environmental & Construction Engineering, as well as researchers from UF and FSU are collaborating on that project . And Noss’ group is working with a $700,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to map projected changes in sea level and identify species and populations that will have to migrate or face extinction.
“The core strength of all of our efforts at UCF is that they involve true interdisciplinary teams including faculty from the College of Sciences and the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Membership in the FCI means that we can further broaden our capability to work across disciplines and take advantage of institutional strengths,” said Hagen.
In addition to the NOAA and Kresge grants, UCF researchers have received an additional $1 million from agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the St. Johns River Management District, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and Florida Sea Grant to study specific issues ranging from the plight of non-indigenous mussels, the extinction potential for the federally threatened Atlantic salt marsh snake and the effects on sea turtle, shorebird, seabird and beach mouse nesting from sea level rise.
“It’s clear that UCF has one of the nation’s strongest concentrations of research strength in the coastal dynamics of sea level rise, and much of that work is done in partnership between civil and environmental engineers and biologists,” said Michael Georgiopoulos, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, home of the CHAMPS lab.
Michael Johnson, dean of the College of Sciences, which includes the Department of Biology, said, “Climate studies will be one of the most important areas of scientific investigation in coming decades. This initiative brings together a powerful team of researchers and can be expected to magnify the contributions they have made individually.”
The Florida Climate Institute will disseminate research results and resources through events, newsletters and a website, www.floridaclimateinstitute.org.