Public Radio’s BURN to examine coming threat of rising sea levels

With reports and interviews from the beaches of South Florida, the glacier fields of Greenland, the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and the streets of New York City, public radio’s award-winning BURN: An Energy Journal takes an indepth look at the potentially devastating impact of rising seas on two major American cities and the Gulf Coast’s vulnerable marshlands and equally vulnerable oil-and-gas industry.

It also captures the sights and sounds of Greenland’s ice sheets, which are melting more rapidly than anyone had anticipated and unleashing huge quantities of fresh water into the North Atlantic. That, in turn, is driving sea rise in places like Miami.

In this one-hour special produced by SoundVision Productions, host Alex Chadwick and his BURN colleagues do what public radio does best — break down big, complex, controversial subjects into smaller, more personal, “human-scale” stories, offering powerful reporting and unique insights along the way.

“Rising Seas” will be broadcast on WLRN in Miami on Nov. 12, following the recent release of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s significant report compiled by hundreds of scientists worldwide.

The IPCC’s advance summary of the full report is unequivocal: “Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” stated one of IPCC’s co-chairs.

The BURN special also is being aired in conjunction with what is known in South Florida as the “King Tide,” an autumnal high tide that puts canals, rivers and coastal areas at risk of flooding.

Also available online will be a wealth of additional content — exclusive photos, graphs and videos — that sheds more light on the global impact of rising seas. The website extras will include an essay by award-winning science journalist Dan Grossman who outlines current projections for sea level rise by 2100. BURN reporters will submit video “postcards” from the field, and filmmaker Josh Kurz, who specializes in blending science with comedy, will present several “explainer videos.”

BURN is launching a new Tumblr blog called “100 Years Rising” and is inviting all listeners to imagine what life might be like in the future when more of the world is underwater — and to share those written, photographic and video visions on the new blog. “100 Years Rising” is especially interested in hearing from local journalists — and high school and university students — who live in threatened coastal areas about how their communities will be affected, and what they can do about it. BURN stories on energy and climate change also can be explored on BURN Facebook and followed on Twitter.

In the upcoming BURN special, Chadwick calls rising seas “the monster stepchild of climate change.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently conducted a threat assessment and determined the 20 most vulnerable coastal cities in the world — Miami is first, New York City is third, and New Orleans is 12th.

From Miami, Chadwick reports that parts of the city will permanently flood as soon as 15 years from now. Already parts of Miami Beach flood regularly during abnormal high tides.

Because the substrate for South Florida is porous limestone, there is basically no defense. He tells the story of Miami’s impending struggle for survival through two local scientists who are deeply involved with sea level rise. Nicole Hernandez Hammer is program manager for the Climate Change Initiative, a project out of Florida Atlantic University that pulls together academics, public officials and agencies to study and prepare for climate change.

Hammer tells Chadwick that she is “very concerned about what lies ahead for Florida in the next 30 years. It’s going to be radically different.” Keren Bolter is a PhD student at FAU in the Department of Environmental Studies whose research compares “perceived and actual risk” for sea level rise in Florida. Her preliminary findings: many people who live miles from the coast are at high risk and don’t know it.

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