Every seat was filled in the Daniel Island Club’s ballroom; the full capacity was in the name of science. All eyes were front and center as one of the world’s leading ocean scientists took the podium to address the Daniel Island faithful at the DI Community Speaker’s Series last week.
Dr. Deborah Bronk is the president and CEO of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an internationally renowned, independent, nonprofit research institute located in East Boothbay, Maine.
Bronk is also the first out-of-town guest speaker in the history of DI’s quarterly series.
Besides self-control to reduce one’s carbon footprint such as recycling, composting and creating less waste, Bronk feels that legislation is the strongest route as opposed to reversing cultural norms. Bronk has appeared on numerous occasions before Congress and has more than three decades of experience as a professor and an oceanographer.
Bronk touched on all things climate control, specifically global warming and its effect on sea ice melting, which then leads to sea level rising and eventually coastal flooding.
WARMING, MELTING & FLOODING
Bronk spoke of the Greenhouse Effect, which is the way heat is trapped close to Earth’s surface by greenhouse gasses. The primary greenhouse gasses in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
These heat-trapping gasses act as a blanket wrapped around the planet, keeping it warm instead of colder without it. But what happens when it gets too hot?
Thirty-six billion tons of carbon were burned in 2021, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.
Human-caused emissions around the world are made up of 76% carbon dioxide; 16% methane 16%; 6% nitrous oxide and 2% fluorinated gasses. The ocean absorbs 93% of these emissions, according to the IPCC.
Bronk noted that methane is 25-times more potent than carbon dioxide’s impact on global warming.
By 2070, The Economist estimates that southeast regions of the United States will have temperatures so high that outdoor conditions won’t be humanly habitable. Bronk said such extreme heat conditions overtime will continue to melt the sea ice.
Bronk said the perfect example of this is the erosion and permafrost melt in Alaska. Charleston’s barrier islands such as Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island see a great degree of erosion that leads to the depletion of their maritime forests which serves as buffers against storm surge.
As sea levels rise, so does coastal flooding. Bronk said one-third is caused by thermal expansion, one-third is melting and one-third is from subsidence, which is the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land.
Hot spots for coastal flooding in the U.S. are primarily Charleston and New Orleans, according to Bronk’s data. Nationwide, floods were projected to cost $49 billion in 2022, according to Forbes.
Signs of climate change that impact flooding include stronger hurricanes, more extreme rainfall and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide which makes the ocean more acidic and harder for organisms to maintain their shell.
All of these things impact the fishing sector and seafood industries.
“Science alone isn’t enough,” Bronk added. “I think a lot of people have a view that science is just going to get us out of it.”