Sea-level Rise Summit Sets the Stage for Adaptation

FAU recently hosted the Third Sea-level Rise Summit with more than 250 participants in attendance. The conference featured experts from the public and private sectors, as well as scientists and researchers.

Colin Polsky, Ph.D., director of FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies and a professor of geosciences.

By gisele galoustian | 5/6/2016

FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies recently pulled out all the stops at the Third Sea-level Rise Summit, “Connected Futures from Alaska to Florida,” at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. More than 250 participants attended the conference, which featured experts and leaders from the public and private sectors, as well as scientists and researchers from academia and government. The two-day event included facilitated panel sessions and interactive visioning activities covering topics such as the economic implications of sea-level rise, impacts on infrastructure, health and livelihoods, and response success stories.

The summit kicked off with an exhibit and poster session followed by an overview of global glacier melt presented by Alex Gardner, Ph.D., a research scientist at NASA-Jet Propulsion Lab. The conference resumed the following day with welcoming remarks from Daniel C. Flynn, Ph.D., FAU’s vice president for research, and a session titled, “Setting the Stage: What’s at Stake and Why We Should Care,” presented by Colin Polsky, Ph.D., director of  FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies and a professor of geosciences.

“While Florida and Alaska are on the opposite ends of the continent, they share mutual concerns of the imminent challenges presented by environmental changes,” said Polsky. “The rapid melting of Arctic ice is threatening coastal locations globally, and impacts include increased flooding from sea-level rise in Florida to infrastructure instability from permafrost melting in Alaska. Our summit is all about adaptation and collaboration and how everyone can do their part to help.”

Among the distinguished panel of speakers and presenters were Daniel A. Reifsnyder, Ph.D., deputy assistant secretary for environment, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State; U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch; State Rep. Kristin Jacobs; Jim Cason, mayor of Coral Gables; Roderick King, M.D., Florida Institute for Health Innovation; and Nic Kinsman, Ph.D., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

King and Craig Stephen, Ph.D., University of Saskatchewan and Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, led the “Health Plenary: New Illness Risks to Manage,” and provided insights on a relatively new and emerging perspective on health, disease, and sea-level rise.

“Most people are not really aware of the link between health and climate,” said King. “Sea-level rise and climate change present a host of health challenges such as higher pollen levels, asthma and respiratory issues, waterborne diseases, and vector-borne diseases like the Zika virus, which can result from problems with standing water. We also need to address long-term issues such as mental health when people are displaced from their communities such as was the case with Hurricane Katrina.”

In addition to the varied panel discussions ranging from business, law, finance and insurance to looking at infrastructure and architecture, FAU’s Third Sea-level Rise Summit provided an innovative platform for the participants to brainstorm solutions and adaptation pathways during the “Solutions Salons” group sessions.

“Science is about creating new knowledge and that has been the aim of our summit this week,” said Polsky. “We have broken new ground by pairing two coastal regions that are both experiencing environmental challenges, but are already working to adapt to these changes. By tapping in to our collective wisdom, the culmination of this summit will result in a living document titled ‘Adaptation Pathways 1.0’ that will serve as a blueprint for other coastal communities throughout the world.”

Other highlights from the summit included a presentation by 16-year-old Delaney Reynolds, founder of The Sink or Swim Project, who received a standing ovation following her presentation. Nathalie Olijslager, consul general of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami, shared the innovative projects that the Dutch have implemented to successfully adapt to sea-level rise in their coastal communities.

FAU faculty and researchers also were in full force providing expertise and insights on topics covering the gamut from design and architecture in the sub-tropics to vulnerability and solutions for South Florida’s water and sewer lines. The summit concluded with a plenary regroup and synthesis with final reporting from the moderators and closing remarks from Deutch.

“It’s really great to be here to help wrap up FAU’s third Sea-level Rise Summit,” said Deutch. “Dr. Polsky, I give you great credit both as the director of the Center for Environmental Studies and for the great leadership you have shown in pulling this event together, and really drawing attention to a critical issue.”

FAU’s summit was supported in part by the Canadian, British and Dutch Consulates in Miami; the Chambers of Commerce of Greater Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach; the U.S. Geological Survey; World Resources Institute; Union of Concerned Scientists; Pathman Lewis, LLP; the Law Office of Mitchell A. Chester, P.A.; Florida Climate Institute; and FAU (a complete list of sponsors is available at