Major Study Funded: Climate Stressors on South Florida’s Coastal and Marine Life

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science recently secured a nearly $1.8 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to explore multiple climate change factors affecting South Florida, including ocean warming. This funding will aid research into the impact of rising temperatures on the region’s coastal and marine ecosystems.

Ocean warming, just one consequence of climate change, significantly contributes to intensifying hurricanes like that of Hurricane Ian, a mega-hurricane that was one of America’s deadliest. It was also the costliest hurricane to hit Florida, racking up about $115 billion in damages for the state.

The warming trend in the Gulf’s sea surface temperatures from 1981-2023 has been steadily concerning. This past summer, temperatures soared between 2 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average across the Gulf of Mexico, signaling an alarming development.

Every degree matters; these record-high water temperatures adversely affected fish and coral, and fueled storms and hurricanes. In 2023, the Atlantic basin alone witnessed 20 named tropical systems. Luckily, only three made landfall: tropical storms Harold and Ophelia and Hurricane Idalia.

According to NOAA, more than 90% of global warming in the last half-century unfolded within the oceans. Excessively warming waters negatively affect marine life and serve as a catalyst for storms to strengthen to catastrophic levels.

This ambitious research project, co-led by the University of Miami and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), is a collaboration with seven other academic and research institutions. Researchers will dive into the study of sixteen key reef species, including corals, seagrass, sargassum, and sponges.

The goal of the grant is to reveal the interplay of various climate change stressors: elevated sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, hypoxia, harmful algal blooms and pollutants. An in-depth understanding of climate stressors can give us insights into the very intricate relationship between these stressors and our increased pollution, warming waters and intensified hurricanes.

As part of the grant, scientists are also tasked with characterizing the effects of these stressors on future climate change scenarios. By analyzing ocean warming and other factors, researchers seek to shed light on how to stave off climate change’s dangerous effects on Florida’s waters, marine life, storm threat and fragile ecosystem. The study’s results could illuminate how to better protect life in Southern Florida from corals to coastal communities.