Local research points to changing Gulf waters.

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Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 11:10 am | Updated: 11:14 am, Fri Feb 7, 2014.

Some interesting research has appeared in the Geophysical Research Letters which has direct relevance on the Sun coast. It appears that sea water levels in the Gulf of Mexico from Key West to Alabama have been changing in a way you may not expect. It is well know that the sea level in many parts of the world have been impacted by Climate change and risen to a point where communities are being threatened. However, this research is looking at different aspect of sea level and one that most Suncoasters are not familiar with. That is the seasonal up and down variation of the sea heights in summer and winter. Seems the up and down fluctuations from season to season are intensifying.

It has been well know in oceanography that sea levels can change during the year due to water temperature, pressure changes, wind direction and strength and other factors. For instance, warm summer water expands and causes a sea level rise compared to winters when cooler waters lead to a contraction in water levels.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Thomas Wahl has been conducting research in the Marine Science Lab of the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. He has collected data form 13 tide guages from Texas to Florida and looked at the data for the past 20 years. He and his colleagues found that the water level swings have been getting larger. In fact some 20 to 30 percent larger. Even more interesting, It is only happening on the eastern Gulf coast and not the western Gulf coast. Mr. Wahl said in a conversation I had with him that the exact reason for the change is as of yet unknown.

Surge from Tropical Storm Andrea

These seasonal changes in water levels are small and the changes occurring over the last 20 years can be measured in inches. Still, it may well have implications for erosion issues, tidal impacts on oil spills and even storm surges during the higher summer water heights. In the winter, when the water level is lower that could possibly be impacts on sensitive coastal ecosystem that need just the right mix of fresh and salt waters.

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