As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, meteorologists and scientists talk about its nearly unprecedented strength and power.
Andrea Dutton thinks she knows why.
The 1991 Staples High School grad is an assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida. She also co-leads an international working group investigating the geological record of changes in sea levels and ice sheet mass, to better predict future sea level rise.
Dr. Andrea Dutton with a fossilized coral reef in the Florida Keys — another area affected by sea level changes. (Photo/Joshua Bright for Redux)
Specifically, Dutton reconstructs sea level over thousands of years, establishing the behavior of sea level and ice sheets during previous warm periods.
According to Rolling Stone, Dutton has shown the mid-Atlantic to be “a particular hotspot for sea-level rise.” Between 2011 and 2015, that coast saw increases in sea levels 6 times faster than the global average. The higher the ocean level, the bigger the storm surge.
However, the story continues, the North Carolina legislature has outlawed considering sea-level rise as part of the state’s coastal management strategy.
Dutton says, “No need to mince words here. The outrageous coastal development practices need to change. Unfortunately, this storm might just be the one to squeeze the insurance market enough to make that happen. Especially on the heels of Irma, Maria and Harvey, which have already stretched the available resources.”
Rolling Stone recently profiled “25 People Shaping the Future in Tech, Science, Medicine, Activism and More.”
They’re the “inventors, entrepreneurs and disrupters who are changing (and maybe saving) the world one brilliant idea at a time.”
One is Westport’s own Andrea Dutton.
The 1991 Staples High School grad — now an assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida — is addressing “one of the most important scientific questions of our time, one upon which millions of lives, and trillions of dollars in real estate and other investments, depend: As our planet continues to heat up, how fast will sea levels rise in the coming decades?”
Andrea Dutton with a fossilized coral reef in the Florida Keys. (Photo/Joshua Bright for Redux)
Dutton studies West Antarctica, which contains enough ice to raise seas by 10 feet. “If West Antarctica is unstable,” she says, “that could be a very big problem for coastal cities in the future.”
Rolling Stone notes:
Dutton is not the only scientist interested in this question. But she has pursued it with a kind of urgency that belies her cool manner, traveling the world to seek out well-preserved fossilized coral outcroppings that help her learn the story rising water can tell about the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate. To Dutton, coral fossils can be read like tree rings, and dating how fast the corals grew on top of each other can reveal not just how high the water rose in the past, but how fast.
Her research involved “a startling amount of physics, from ice-sheet dynamics to glacial rebound of the North American continent.”
The magazine adds this portrait of the former Westport/current world changer:
Dutton is a single mom with 2 young kids. Her Facebook page is full of pictures of their soccer games and stories like the frog that accidentally got puréed in her garbage disposal. “I’m a scientist, and I love my work,” she says. “But I’m not just doing this because I love science. I’m doing this because I care about the future, and the kind of world we’re leaving to our kids.”
(For the full Rolling Stone story, click here. Hat tip: Sandee Cole)
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