Chief NASA Scientist: Jacksonville Faces Major Threat From Rising Sea Levels

May 29, 2015

Dennis Bushnell answers questions about sea level rise and climate change during his lecture at the UNF Adam W. Herbert University Center.
Credit Gregory Todaro / WJCT News

“If all the ice melts — and that’ll happening if we keep doing what we’re doing — the oceans come up 75 meters. That’s about 250 feet,” Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, told the crowd Friday morning.

“This’ll convert downtown Jacksonville skyscrapers into hazards to navigation,” he said.

Bushnell gave a lecture about the consequences of sea level rise on the First Coast Friday morning at the UNF Adam W. Herbert University Center.

Bushnell has been at Langley since 1963. He’s worked on the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, but now he’s concerned about how humanity will survive the catastrophic effects of climate change — a change which he says is coming faster than previously predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

“Seven years ago the IPCC came out and said ‘oh, we’re going to have ice-free summers in the arctic by 2100,’” said Bushnell. “The way the ice has been melting, it’s now somewhere between 2018 and 2030.”

One of Bushnell’s ideas on how to help humanity survive includes the bold idea of irrigating the Sahara desert with seawater and grow edible, salt-tolerant land plants called halophytes.

“You can replace all fossil carbon fuel with biofuel … you can grow all the food that you want — and while you’re growing food with seawater, you’re getting back a major portion of the 70 percent of the freshwater that’s going towards growing freshwater plants,” said Bushwell. “So you solve land, water, food, energy and climate, just by going to halophytes.”