While driving and walking through Everglades National Park, Lenny, my husband, looked at the park through his eyes as a climate change scientist. Here’s what he saw:
Danny and I went to Everglades National Park today, the latest in a series of visits over the last forty years. As we entered the park and I looked out over “sea of grass,” I realize that when our granddaughters are our age, about sixty years from now, none of what I was looking at is likely to exist. Yes, there will be an area defined as Everglades National Park, but most of it will be underwater.
I’ve been a climate change expert for more than twenty-five years. I read all the reports and intellectually know that sea level is projected to rise one to four feet by 2100. I also know that storm surges and salt-water intrusion will dramatically change areas that are not directly flooded. But there is a difference between knowing something intellectually, and feeling it in your gut. Today, I felt the future impacts of climate change in my gut.
One of the cuter signs on the way to Flamingo, the end of the road in the Everglades, identifies Rock Reef Pass, elevation three feet. Another identifies the dwarf cypress forest, elevation four feet. If these places are not underwater by 2100, they will be soon afterwards.
To my surprise, the National Park Service is not highlighting climate change as one of the threats to the Everglades. None of the displays at either the main visitors center, at the park entrance, or at the smaller one in Flamingo, had any information about sea level rise. When I asked the ranger at Flamingo whether he had anything about climate change, he had to hunt for it. After a few minutes he gave me a brochure that appear to have been published in 2008, because it quoted old, smaller estimates of sea level rise, and a 2007 study by a researcher at the University of Miami on the effect of a two-foot sea level rise on the Everglades.
The impacts of two feet of sea level are dramatic. The western area of the park, which is now covered by mangroves, would be underwater. The mangroves would move north and east – displacing the pinelands and shallow marsh that now cover the eastern and central parts of the park. The American crocodile would thrive, but many of the bird and land animal species that now inhabit Everglades would have to migrate. The “sea of grass” would be gone forever.