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return to Sound Waves article: Scientists and the Media: Impacts of Sea-level Rise

Brent Yarnel, Gary Lytton, Craig Pittman

Ecological Impacts

Clip 3: Communicating with concrete examples, sound science, and societal implications

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve director Gary Lytton and St. Petersburg Times reporter Craig Pittman discuss sea-level measurements and documented ecological shifts in Rookery Bay and the value to reporters of such concrete data.

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Craig Pittman: Let me ask you a dumb question. And I've not done my reporting on this. Are you seeing sea-level rise at Rookery Bay at this point?

Gary Lytton: (nodding), Yeah, actually my answer to that is that we have been working with the USGS. We've got a series of—they're called SET tables [Surface Elevation Tables, URL]. They're basically surveyed in, and these are relatively, I would say relatively cheap; they're about 4,000 dollars apiece to put these pieces of equipment out. We've got—I think these were installed maybe almost 20 years ago in Rookery Bay—and they're designed to basically measure relative sea-level rise. Because of course, you've got some areas of the country where, you know, you've got elevations that are subsiding, other areas where it's going up. So you need to compare that to sea-level rise. What we're finding in Rookery Bay is that the elevations around Rookery Bay, based on maybe 20 years of data, is that our coastline is remaining relatively stable, so we're not subsiding; but we are, certainly, we are beginning to experience sea-level rise.

Good examples of that: we're seeing vegetation and ecological shifts in the Ten Thousand Islands, which is an area that we manage. Over time since using aerial photography, we can track shifts in the communities in the Ten Thousand Islands; for example, mangrove communities that are migrating landward, starting from the 1940s up until the present time. So we're losing some of our transitional freshwater marshes and getting mangroves that are marching inward.

Brent Yarnal: So Craig, given this scenario that Gary has just put out for us—not so much a scenario, it's fact.

Craig Pittman: Right.

Brent Yarnal: OK, does the public know this? What's the role of reporters like you and the press that get that word out to the public? And what is it you think the public ought to know, and how do you decide on what they ought to know, and what does it matter?

Craig Pittman: One of the things that I like about this, is that it is concrete. It's not speculative. So many of the stories that I've seen done on sea-level rise have been: "OK, if the sea level rises this much, then therefore this much of Florida is going to be inundated based on the elevations that are available, although we don't know whether it's gonna really go that far because there are lots of seawalls and there are these things…." But this is something concrete—just like the thing at Waccasassa State Preserve—it's something concrete, something you can actually get your hands on and say, "Look, it's happening, here it is, OK, and then, these are the ramifications."


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cover story:
Corals, Habitats, and Paleoclimate in the Drake Passage

Scientists and the Media: Impacts of Sea-level Rise

USGS NWRC Celebrates National Women's History Month

USGS Promoted at National Science Teachers Association Conference

Meetings Field Trip for Association of American Geographers Meeting

USGS Modeling Conference

Publications New Poster Depicts Complex Bathymetry in Northern Monterey Bay

August 2008 Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
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