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Sea Levels During the Last Interglacial Period: What can they tell us about the future? ,

How can studying fossil records on the island of Seychelles, 900 miles off the coast of eastern Africa, give us clues as to how melting polar ice sheets could affect South Florida and other coastal cities in the United States in the future? Dr. Andrea Dutton, a University of Florida carbonate geochemist and Water Institute affiliate faculty member involved in the 2013 Water Institute Graduate Fellow Program, answered this question in a recent Gainesville Sun article.

Dr. Dutton explained that she and her team of researchers chose their field site because the reconstructed sea levels of Seychelles are a close match to global average sea levels. They are reconstructing sea levels as far back as the last interglacial time period, 125,000 years ago, when temperatures were warmer than they are today and sea levels were higher.

Their findings showed that much of the coastal lands were underwater, most likely caused by a collapse of the Antarctic ice sheets, which parallels the current destabilization of the western Antarctic ice sheet. Although sea levels 125,000 years ago were 20-30 feet above present sea levels, scientists predict present temperatures will rise even higher than they did during the last interglacial period.

So what does this mean for Florida? According to Dr. Dutton, most of South Florida was underwater during the last interglacial period. Dr. Dutton’s lab is currently researching how fast it took sea levels to rise 125,000 years ago. This research will help officials understand how quickly they should plan to adapt to current rising sea levels.

Dr. Dutton’s research contributes to UF Water Institute interdisciplinary efforts under the Water and Climate Thrust Area focused on developing and improving predictive tools to manage water resources facing the uncertainties of climate change and sea level rise. To read Dr. Dutton’s published research in Quaternary Science Review, click here.