St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center > Florida Shelf Ecosystems

Response of Florida Shelf Ecosystems to Climate Change

Project Summary

Climate Change

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, universities, State and Federal agencies are studying the impact of climate change on ocean chemistry.
Scientists from the USGS, universities, State and Federal agencies are studying the impact of climate change on ocean chemistry.
St. Petersburg, Florida.
Climate change and sea level rise may pose problems for many coastal cities, such as St. Petersburg, FL, pictured here.

Climate change can be identified by alterations in long-term weather patterns - where the average temperature or rainfall is altered for decades, where new patterns emerge, or where new extremes occur and persist for extended periods of time (see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Climate change can also be evaluated by oceanic changes because the oceans retain heat, circulate heat globally, and serve as carbon dioxide (CO2) reservoirs. In addition to changes in ocean temperature and ocean chemistry, continued sea-level rise has serious implications for both coastal habitats and human populations.

The State of Florida is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because it is a large, relatively flat peninsula, with many miles of coastline, estuaries, and low-lying wetlands (see Florida Oceans and Coastal Council: The Effects of Climate Change on Florida's Ocean and Coastal Resources). Florida shelf habitats and natural resources have evolved in concert with existing weather patterns, temperature range, sea level, and nutrient/carbon balance. As present weather and oceanic patterns change, so too will Florida’s coastal and marine resources.

Several impacts of climate change are particularly important:

  • increasing greenhouse gases (CO2) leading to ocean acidification,
  • increasing air temperature and water vapor leading to changes in rainfall, run-off, storm frequency, and storm intensity,
  • higher ocean temperature leading to
    • changes in species distribution, the food web, and nutrients
    • loss of biological diversity
    • increased algal blooms and water-borne diseases,
  • rising sea level leading to changes in tidal wetlands, coastal landforms, and coastal water supplies.

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