MAST@FIU and SJMC students team up to study, raise awareness about sea level rise

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

Fifty high school students from MAST @ FIU broke up into groups to collect water samples at 12 different monitoring stations along the west coast of the South Beach area on Oct. 9. Their study was part of FIU’s efforts to raise awareness and study sea level rise on King Tide Day, the day each year when tides often lead to massive flooding in Miami Beach and other parts of South Florida.

While the streets remained mostly dry thanks to the success of Miami Beach’s newly-installed pump system, MAST @ FIU students were able to collect water samples from the water being pumped back into the bay for experimentation.

Over the next several weeks, the students conducted a variety of experiments with the seawater collected, comparing and measuring the salinity (salt levels), quality and depth of the sparse floodwater present when the high tide occurred.

“In South Florida, as sea level continues to rise we are going to be experiencing a much higher increase in saltwater intrusion,” said Saad Masud, a sophomore at MAST @ FIU. “Saltwater is going to push its way into our porous limestone aquifers and that’s going to contaminate our drinking supplies so it’s vitally important that we understand the problem and find information in order to prevent its effects.”

Twenty students from the School of Mass Communication and Journalism (SJMC) helped plan and run King Tide Day.

“Being able to run an event and working with other professional media producers and event planners is not something you get to do everyday or get in every classroom,” said Robert Gutsche, Jr., an assistant professor at SJMC. “Here at FIU, we’ve tried really hard to create these types of opportunities for our students.”

Gutsche is one of four journalism professors at FIU who helped create Eyes on the Rise, a collaboration of journalists and technology professionals who aim to educate South Florida communities about the impact, challenges and threats of sea level rise. They’re also working to create possible solutions for a sustainable future.

Eyes on the Rise hosted the King Tide Day event, which featured a press conference with Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and local leaders.

FIU leaders and elected officials called Miami Beach “ground zero” for sea level rise in the United States and stressed the importance of dealing with these issues while there is still time to take action.

“The first thing we need to do is have the community understand that sea level permeates everything we do,” Interim Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Mike Heithaus said. “It’s a business issue, a legal issue, a scientific issue, a social issue and a communications issue. What we do at FIU is bring in these teams from different disciplines to come up with holistic solutions. That’s what it’s going to take to solve this problem.”