At this moment, there's probably a terrible traffic snarl happening somewhere in South Florida. But, until you're caught up in one yourself, what does it matter? It's difficult to care when you're not in the midst of chaos, when it's not happening in front of you. Similarly, it can be difficult to care about or comprehend, the creeping, gradual effects of climate change in Miami without bearing witness to it happening beneath our feet.
When King Tide Day brings the highest tide of the year to Miami Beach on October 9, a group of professors, students, and climate scientists will use the naturally-occurring event to publicly measure the effects of sea level rise, and consider it in terms of South Florida's future vitality.
The "citizen science" event was organized by eyesontherise.org, a sea level rise project set up by four professors of Florida International University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication: Robert Gutsche Jr., Kate MacMillin, Susan Jacobson, and Juliet Pinto.
By enabling nearly 50 FIU college students and 20 MAST (Maritime and Science Technology) Academy high school students to conduct hands-on experiments with water sensors, a bridge can be built between the community and the classroom. In preparation for the Miami Beach event, a rally will also be held today in the WUC ballroom at FIU's Biscayne Bay campus. Between 9 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., presentations will be given by students and climate change experts, after which time students will attend workshops.
"A lot of times, the reason why young people are not so interested is because they don't know about it...," says Naomie Pierre-Toussaint, a college student at FIU who will be assisting with both events. "But this is a topic that we all can relate to, young and old, and this is going to affect us regardless of whether we want it to or not."
That hard truth encourages greater possibilities for future conversations, "So that it's not only public officials and businesses and developers making the decisions about what goes into the ground, what goes into the sky, how we should be building, or what we should be destroying," says Robert Gutsche Jr., Eyes on the Rise team member and assistant professor at FIU.
Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on October 9, students and experts will be stationed on many as 12 different monitoring stations in the South Beach area -- along the west coast, as flooding tends to come from the bayside rather than the ocean. There they will measure the salinity (salt levels), quality, and depth of the flood water expected to be present at high tide. Additionally, ALTA Systems, Inc. will launch balloons into the sky to capture high-resolution images of the bay, sea walls, and flooding.
Described by Matthew Welker, principal of MAST at FIU, as "an event that ultimately has significance for all of South Florida," the many students, scientists, media, and technology professionals involved aim to spread understanding in the hope of breeding action and change.
"A lot of this is written off as conspiracy theory and a lot of it's written off as sensationalism," Gutsche says. "But what we're trying to do is, by getting these kids involved now, is to ground them in a scientific understanding of what's going on, so that they can build upon the science and the evidence that they're gathering with their own hands, so that when they go forward they can decide what type of conversation we have."
Also part of the conversation is Lily Bui, a graduate student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been training students on sensor journalism, her realm of expertise. Bui is scheduled to speak at today's rally via Skype.
"A lot of us, I think, are spoon-fed media and apocalyptic messages about climate change, but we don't know how we can be directly involved," says Bui, who hopes the day will be a visible reminder that Florida residents must act. "The present is the only time that we have control over."
Caroline Lewis, a climate change expert from the CLEO Institute, will also be present for the events. Lewis was one of 400,000 people who took part in the recent People's Climate March in New York, and was also recognized last year as a White House Climate Resilient Champion of Change.
"History will be on the side of those who are fighting now," she believes. "It almost takes a hurricane to have people go, 'Whoa, this is serious,' because climate change is a really slow, creepy thing, but it's effects are felt disproportionately around the world."
Welker says that because South Florida flooding is becoming more frequent and more significant, people are becoming more aware and concerned about the region's future. As sea levels rise, every inch has a profound effect.
"It doesn't seem that big to us because, oh, it's just an inch, at least that's what I used to think," Pierre-Toussaint says. "But when you actually see the digital images or a virtual image of what it actually looks like or what an inch can actually do and how deep it really looks... Wow, this is really serious,"
According to Lewis, Miami is vulnerable to even a two-foot rise -- and that's expected any time between 2040 and 2060.
"It's about the quality of life that we have in South Florida, and if we're going to preserve that quality, we have to do some things a little differently," Welker says.
The Climate Leadership and Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute will launch the event at 8 a.m., on the fourth floor of the Miami Beach Urban Studios (420 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach), followed by a panel conducted by CLEO with experts in current ocean and climate science, local and regional government, national advocacy, and renewable energy at 11:20 a.m. If you wish to find out more about the fight for a paradise not yet lost, head to Miami Beach on October 9, or visit eyesontherise.org.
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