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Frequently Asked Questions About Climate Change

Q: Is climate change really happening?

A: The vast majority of scientists in the world today believe that climate change is real, and that human activity is contributing to climate change. The 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its work (along with former Vice President Al Gore) , considers that the evidence that the Earth's atmosphere and oceans are warming to be "unequivocal" and that it is "very likely" (greater than 90% likelihood) that most of the increase in global temperature averages since the 1950s is a result of human-caused emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases.

Q: Have any signs of climate change been noted in Tampa Bay?

A: Already in Tampa Bay, water levels have been rising about an inch a decade since the 1950s, when record-keeping began. In the future, most scientists predict that sea level will increase at a faster rate, as much as 15 inches by the end of the century.

Q: How will rising sea level affect our coastal habitats?

A. Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and other effects of climate change because of its low topography, high density of residents and infrastructure along the coasts, and strong dependence on coastal and marine ecosystems to support its economy. Changes could include loss of existing oyster bars, marshes and mangroves, for example, with associated declines in fish and wildlife species dependent on those habitats. Only a few inches of sea level rise will move the coastline further inland, threatening communities and intruding on freshwater resources.

The Surface Water Improvement and Management Program of the Southwest Florida Water Management District already is taking sea level rise into account in its habitat restoration projects around Tampa Bay, leaving room in the restoration designs for marshes to migrate inland over time.

Q: What about weather changes?

A: Temperatures in Florida are expected to rise. Winter lows may rise 3 to 10 degrees and summer highs may rise 3 to 7 degrees. The freeze line is likely to move north and ocean water temperatures are likely to rise. More extreme rainfall events and prolonged drought are also a consequence.

Q: What about fishing and diving?

A: Increased water temperature will affect the distribution and abundance of fish and other organisms, and in extreme cases, lead to fish kills. Invasive plants and animals may be able to expand their ranges. Florida's beautiful coral reefs, which provide critical habitat for marine life, could disappear as acidity of sea water increases due to higher carbon dioxide levels.

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