Keren Bolter, Ph.D. Candidate, Geosciences
When Keren Bolter first began her research mapping the areas of South Florida that are most vulnerable to sea-level rise, she never imagined she’d be talking about it with Ann Curry on national television for a special report on NBC called, “Our Year of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?” (See part 6).
Keren's work as a Geoscientist has garnered her national media attention - which shows not only the physical impact of sea level rise on South Florida, but also delves into the issues involved with the socioeconomic and health risks associated with sea level rise. While at FAU, Keren's dissertation compared perceived risk versus actual risk to sea level rise. She measured perceived risk via surveys and actual risk via data related to storm surge, flooding, and property loss. Her initial results showed that there is a lack of awareness among residents that has spatial and socioeconomic trends.
Because of Florida’s low elevation and porous limestone foundation, the area is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. There are areas of South Florida that are already feeling the effect of sea level rise. Miami Beach floods regularly at high tide because when the existing drainage system was built, the engineers didn't account for a rise in sea level. Now, even with no rain at all, the area can experience flooding as the tide comes up the storm-water system instead of draining out. Broward county also has areas that flood regularly even with little or no rain.
Keren’s research looks at the socioeconomic issues of sea level rise, as well. There is a large population of low-income residents that live in low-lying inland areas. Many of these people do not have the means to either retro-fit their homes or move elsewhere to get out of harm’s way. Keren was recently interviewed on WLRN discussing this topic.
There is virtually no debate amongst climate change scientists about sea level rise; they all acknowledge that it is rising, the only question is how quickly? The general estimate for South Florida envisions a 1-3 foot increase within 50 years. This could mean that large areas of South Florida would be underwater, or experience problematic flooding every time it rains in the next few decades.
Keren and her colleagues in this field of research face the challenge of trying to educate the public about the risks without inducing panic or, on the other side of the coin, apathy. Rather, they aim to generate support for widespread use of adaptation techniques to ensure that South Florida remains a safe and sustainable home for all its people.