A Hillsborough resident who experienced climate change had questions. Hear a climatologist's answers
De'Andre Long of Riverview asks Florida climatologist David Zierden some questions about how weather is affected by infrastructure, industries and other human activities.
WUSF is amplifying voices from across the region in an occasional series on how climate change is affecting your life. Today, we hear from 39-year-old De'Andre Long whose family has lived in Tampa for five generations. He moved to Riverview more than a decade ago after noticing cooler temperatures there.
Long didn't own a car until he was 30 so he spent much of his life as a pedestrian. He also worked outside in various jobs, like construction, a patio bar in Ybor City, and even in a marching band. During all that time outside, he said he experienced how climate change affected local temperature.
“I would notice there would be these changes, these differences, where things were prolonged or heat was extended — just very uncomfortable things,” said Long. “We anticipate a drop in bug and mosquito activity at certain times a year. And me, I'm like physically feeling for it and it wasn't there.”
Long had some questions about weather and climate change, so WUSF connected him with David Zierden, a climatologist at Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, to get some answers.
What are the sorts of pollutant emissions meteorologists have detected with their satellite instruments?
Both through satellite and kind of ground-based observations, it's well documented the increase in greenhouse gases since the dawn of the industrial age over a century ago. One of the most famous observations is the Keeling Curve, where the top of Mauna Loa in the Hawaiian Islands they take very careful measurements of the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere since the mid-1950s. And it's a very representative sample of the global average of carbon dioxide. It shows, without a doubt, an increase of over 100 parts per million or 40% or more since the dawn of the industrial age. We're now at around 415 parts per million, which looking at ice cores in the Antarctic, that's higher than any other time in the last around million years.
So, that's what humans are doing to the atmosphere. We also have satellite observation and aerosols. The more stringent EPA standards on pollution that were enacted in the mid-1970s have really cut down on the aerosol pollution and that might have had an effect on our regional climate here in the Southeast also. But yeah, what humans are putting in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (the main one), methane, nitrous oxide, other gases, are definitely playing a role in both regional and global climate change.
Other than the urban heat island effect, what other human driven meteorological occurrences are there?
Yeah, you mentioned the urban heat island effect, and that is one of the biggest causes of local and even regional climate changes from land use/land surface changes. A recent study by Marshall Shepherd and colleagues at University of Georgia actually show that the Southeast Florida urbanized area - Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm - leads the nation as far as the impact of this urban heat island warming of nearly two degrees Fahrenheit over the last several decades.
Other areas in Florida include the Tampa-St. Pete area, Orlando, the Jacksonville-Duval County area. So, the urban heat island is certainly one of the biggest drivers of local and even regional climate differences when looking at temperature. Another thing is other land use changes - draining of wetlands. Here in Florida, the biggest example is the sugar industry, which established itself in the mid-19th century, drained millions of acres of wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee and turned them into agricultural areas. And that's had an impact on our climate also.
Can infrastructure industries, or their generally resulting activity, change weather patterns for their location?
Yes, they certainly can have an impact on local temperature, I'd say. But the urban heat island effect, it's well established that the downtown urban centers can be several degrees warmer than the surrounding rural landscape, especially on the hot summer days and also hot summer nights. But they don't really have a broad scale influence on our… regional or global climate. It's more of a local influence.
What about… I don't know the different names of different levels of the atmosphere… but let's say from the sea floor up, are different industries in some way itemized for their activity and disturbing our environment and weather?
That’s a great question. As we get higher in the atmosphere and away from the surface layers, that's more of a broadscale circulation and weather patterns that aren't really influenced by these local influences. But the other side of it is, especially here in the Southeast and across the nation, we're seeing more of an increase in overnight temperatures, the overnight low temperatures than in the daytime highs.
And why that is these land use/land change influences, like urbanizations or draining the wetlands, at night, as the atmosphere cools, the near surface layers, the boundary layer, becomes more stratified. So, the influence of these land use changes are felt more during the night, when they're kind of locked-in by a more stable boundary layer. During the daytime we get much more mixing in the atmosphere and these kind of influences can be mixed and kind of dissipated throughout the upper atmosphere.
WUSF’s Jessica Meszaros produced this conversation.
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