Sarasota County likely to face 8 to 9 inches of sea level rise over next 30 years, director of Sarasota Bay Estuary Program tells Sarasota City Commission

Climate changes demonstrated through data review

Over the next 30 years, Sarasota County likely will be faced with 8 to 9 inches of sea level rise, the executive director of the nonprofit Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) has told the Sarasota city commissioners.

“Our climate is changing,” David Tomasko said during a Nov. 7 presentation on the state of Sarasota Bay. He cited temperature data for the region, accumulated over 100 years at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

“We used to average two to three days a year of freezing temperatures,” Tomasko continued. Yet, he said, during the past decade, “We’ve had three freezing days …”

Moreover, he pointed out, “Our water temperature is getting warmer.”

Without colder water levels, Tomasko explained, harmful algal blooms (HABs) can grown for longer periods of time. If water temperatures remain warm or grow warmer, he said, “You’ll have a 10-year growing season” for the blooms, instead of a 10-month season.

As The Sarasota News Leader reported last week, Tomasko also noted that a 200-square-mile red tide bloom has been centered offshore, from Venice down to Sanibel Island. “It is most likely made much worse,” he noted, because of the stormwater runoff and other effluents that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Ian’s Sept. 28 strike on Lee County.

Higher water temperatures also add fuel for more tropical storms, Tomasko pointed out to the City Commission. Storm data going back to the 1840s show that, over the past 20 to 40 years, more tropical storms have developed than in the preceding decades in the North Atlantic Basin, Tomasko said.

Further, many years went by without a hurricane that reached Category 3 or higher strength, Tomasko noted. However, during the past 20 years, he added, “It’s been very rare” to see a hurricane season without storms reaching Category 3 or above that level.

Humans cause hurricanes and red tide to be worse, he told the commissioners.

The same day Tomasko addressed the City Commission, the National Climate Assessment released a draft document — on behalf of “a broad range of federal agencies,” as The Washington Post reported — that said climate change is creating “far-reaching and worsening” problems in every region of the United States. “[T]he human and economic toll will only increase unless humans move faster to slow the planet’s warming,” The Post added, referring to details of the report.

That document, which probably will be finalized in 2023, following “a period of public comment and peer review,” The Post continued, “finds that in a world that has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, the situation in the United States is even more extreme.”

“Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has warmed 68 percent faster than the planet as a whole,” The Post added, quoting the report. Since 1970, the authors of the report wrote, “[T]he continental United States has experienced 2.5 degrees of Fahrenheit warming.”

Further, the report “highlights how the frequency of billion-dollar disasters has … increased from once every four months in the 1980s to once very three weeks in the present,” The Post added. “It finds that the United States is experiencing some of the most severe sea-level rise on the planet.”

The authors of the report also point out that, in 2021, the United States government tracked 20 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters. Those events “cost the nation an estimated $145 billion and killed nearly 700 people,” The Post said. Whereas the “United States experienced an average of 7.7 billion-dollar disasters annually over the past four decades,” The Post continued, referencing the report, “in the past five years, that average has jumped to nearly 18 events each year, or about one every several weeks.”

The report also says, “More severe wildfires in California, sea level rise in Florida, and more frequent flooding in Texas are expected to displace millions of people, while climate-driven economic changes abroad continue to increase the rate of emigration to the United States.”

Moreover, the report points out, “Hurricanes and storm surges are battering mangrove forests and wetlands that historically safeguard coastal communities,” while “[m]arine heat waves stress the coral reefs and [seagrass] that support key fish populations.”

Driving global emissions to zero or net zero should stop the warming trend, one of the report’s authors, Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, told The Post. Nonetheless, he added, “[S]ome climate change impacts” — such as sea level rise — “will continue for millennia to come even after temperatures stabilize.”