CHARACTERIZATION OF IMPACTS – Presentation as Chair, Opening Session SLR 2013 Summit. October 16-19, 2013, Florida Center for Environmental Studies, Florida Atlantic University, Fort Lauderdale, FL

I served as a member of the Organizing Committee and also as Chair of the Opening Plenary Session (SESSION ONE FINAL PROGRAM) at  the SLR 2013 Summit, hosted by the Florida Center for Environmental Studies (CES), Florida Atlantic University (FAU), which took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida October 16-19, 2013.

Working with an excellent team of seven scientists and professionals (SLRsummit2013_panelistsInfoREV1) and conscious that the opening session would set the tone, and a foundation of important questions for the overall summit I proposed, and  the whole team agreed, to name the opening session: Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge: A damaging combination.

The opening session ran from 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and was divided into three separate but interconnected parts: Part 1: The Science and the Impacts; Part 2: Communication and Collaboration; Part 3: What does it all mean? Are we prepared? What next?

In my view the scientific research community, and other stakeholders, have spent way too much time sounding off about the rate of sea level rise and projections of total cumulative sea level rise by given dates in the future, or by the end of the current century. The problem I see with this approach is that it focuses on the threat, the problem, but does nothing in the way of offering solutions. Said differently, just talking about how much sea level rise (SLR) between today and some future date, 3o, 50 or 100 years from now, does not provide actionable knowledge for decision-makers, design professionals, policy-makers, emergency managers, planers, and residents of vulnerable coastal communities. I believe it is necessary to characterize the potential impacts of SLR on an area-specific or even site-specific basis in order to provide a basis for assessing the potential for damage from such expected future impacts, and for identifying adaptation a range of effective adaptation (hazard mitigation) measures to reduce the potential for damage to the built-environment and its supporting infrastructure, and to the full range of human activity.For these reasons I focused my opening remarks in this session on the characterization of impacts, which I illustrated (characterizing the impacts)(characterizing the impacts WITH notes) with examples of my own field work conducting research on the impact of storm surge following hurricane events affecting coastal urban environments quite similar to what we have here in southeast Florida.

Part 2 of the opening session stressed the need to bridge the gaps that separate the scientific community from those who could use the science as a foundation for implementing solutions to address potential damages caused by SLR or hazards, such as storm surge, that will continue to be exacerbated by SLR into the foreseeable future. This segment also stressed the need for a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, and the need to integrate the building/infrastructure design professions in any implementation efforts.

The opening session concluded with excellent presentations and a panel discussion, involving all eight team members, on the need to put all of this in perspective by asking some hard and relevant questions, including: What does it all mean? Are we prepared? What next?  To challenge the team to take a hard look at the central topic of the opening session, and how it could set the ‘charge’ for all other sessions during the SLR 2013 Summit, I generated my own list of questions (To see the questions I asked then, please click on the following link SLR 2013 SUMMIT ) to share with our invited session-one panelists.