USF researchers explore caves to study sea level rise

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An international cave expedition landed a group of researchers on the front page of a science journal, and a University of South Florida professor was in the middle of it all.

USF is collaborating on a research project to figure out what sea levels were like thousands of years ago and how it could impact us today.

In addition to USF, the University of New Mexico, Boston College, University of Iowa, the University of Balearic Islands in Spain, and University Rome Tre in Italy, are all educational institutions involved in publishing a study on sea levels in Mallorca, Spain. The study was featured in Nature Geoscience journal in November.

USF's Bogdan Onac, professor of karst geology and paleoclimatology, was part of the international team of researchers from the U.S. and European universities that went to Mallorca in May to collect samples from the ancient cave formations.

"So what we found in our study is that sea level during that time in the western Mediterranean was about two meters above present," said Onac.

He said what they found was alarming if the earth warms even more.

"It's possible that in a number of years, I'm talking hundreds of years, we will see the sea levels rising to that position," said Onac. "So that has huge implications for Florida, for most of the coastal areas."

Onac said what they found in the caves is used to make forecasts for governments.

"I'm providing data and they can be not only theoretically projecting what's going to happen in 50 years, 100 years from now but based on real data," said Onac.

He said people don’t have to wait until the water rises two meters to the ancient sea level that researched have now discovered in order to feel the effects of climate change.

"You got your house close to the beach and you see beach erosion going on faster and faster. You realize that something is going on," said Onac.

What they found in Mallorca gives them better information to go on.

"We need to keep the balance in how much we heat the atmosphere," said Onac.

He said the research is an ongoing project, and Onac tries to return to those caves every year.