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Colin Polsky, Ph.D. - Florida Atlantic University. Boca Raton, FL, US

Colin Polsky, Ph.D.

Director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies | Florida Atlantic University


Colin Polsky is trained as a geographer, specializing in the human dimensions of global environmental change.




Colin Polsky joined the Florida Atlantic University faculty as professor of geosciences in August 2014. His primary responsibility is to direct the Florida Center for Environmental Studies. CES was founded in 1994 under the superb leadership of Len Berry, who served as director until Polsky joined. Thankfully, Berry remains active in CES as emeritus professor of geosciences.

Under Polsky’s leadership, CES has embraced a new vision that builds on past successes while expanding into new domains. The vision of CES is to improve Florida's sustainability through research, education and outreach on wetlands ecology and coastal resilience.

Polsky is trained as a geographer, specializing in the human dimensions of global environmental change. He has completed four degrees with majors in four disciplines, plus a two-year postdoctoral training in a fifth field. This background in mathematics, humanities, French, geography, and science and international affairs (from the University of Texas, Penn State, and Harvard, respectively) has led to a sustained interest in advancing knowledge of U.S. climate vulnerabilities, in both methodological and applied terms.

As part of several interdisciplinary teams, Polsky has received NSF grants totaling close to $18 million of which $1.7 million has been directed to his stewardship. His publications include 26 peer-reviewed articles, two co-authored books, 17 book chapters, and 11 other reports; he has delivered close to 100 public presentations in eight countries. Polsky has served as co-convening lead author for a chapter in the 2013 National Climate Assessment, served on NRC, NSF, and USGCRP committees, and prepared reviews for several IPCC reports.

Polsky’s administrative experience includes service for eight years as director of a university undergraduate research program, one-and-a-half years as associate dean, and one year on an elected governance board. These experiences have led to significant experience with leadership and program-building, both within and across university departments; fundraising from public and private foundations; staffing of diverse and multigenerational teams; and communicating with varied audiences, for both persuasive and reporting purposes.

Areas of Expertise (7)

U.S. Climate Vulnerabilities



Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change



Science & International Affairs

Accomplishments (2)

Charter Fellow

2012 Colleges of Worcester Consortium Fellows in Academic Leadership Program

Clark U. Hodgkins Award for Research Excellence

2008 One of two junior faculty recipients

Education (4)

The Pennsylvania State University: Ph.D., Geography 2002

The Pennsylvania State University: M.S., Geography 1998

The University of Texas at Austin: B.A., Plan II (Humanities) 1994

The University of Texas at Austin: B.S., Mathematics 1994

Affiliations (3)

  • U.S. Global Change Research Program, U.S. National Climate Assessment : Member, Adaptation and Hazards Indicators Technical Team
  • NEON Urban Ecology Working Group, NSF LTER Program : Member
  • National Academies of Science/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) Committee on Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences in the Next Decade : Committee Member

Selected Media Appearances (10)

Sea level rising more rapidly than previously predicted

WPLG TV  online


“As you go west from the ridge along the railroad and I-95, you lose elevation towards the Everglades, and so yes, the western parts of our counties, Broward and Miami Dade, they should experience some serious effects, as well,” said Dr. Colin Polsky, Director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University.

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As state combats sea level rise, new survey shows belief in climate change up in Florida

ABC Action News - WFTS Tampa Bay  online


OLDSMAR, Fla. — Dr. Colin Polsky had a hunch, and a new survey by his Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University seems to prove it — climate change is becoming a bipartisan issue in Florida.

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Florida spending millions to adapt to potentially catastrophic sea level rise

CBS12  online


Environmental experts like Dr. Colin Polsky warn that, even before coastal communities see the devastating impact of things like higher floods, they could see serious economic issues. Rising sea level, Polsky explains, could tank some property values and even injure businesses.

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King tides are back this weekend. If you’re wondering what they are, here’s some background

Sun Sentinel  online


Twice a month during the full and new moons, tides rise higher as the sun, moon and Earth align. Those are called spring tides. But twice a year — in the spring and fall — spring tides become king tides when the Earth’s northern hemisphere is closest to the sun. The fall king tides are more extreme. According to FAU professor Colin Polsky, “we don’t really pay attention to the spring event because those tides aren’t high enough to cause flooding compared to the fall, when the tides are high enough to cause flooding.” The scientific name for king tides is perigean spring tide.

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Poll: Climate change concerns Floridians even in the face of COVID-19

Florida Politics  


“Because Florida is a political bellwether state, this solidifying of public opinion among Florida Republicans about the reality of climate change may signal a similar change in coming years for the GOP across the nation,” said Colin Polsky, Ph.D., director of the FAU Center for Environmental Studies, and lead author of the study.

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Climate change is real and it’s caused by humans, most Floridians say

Florida Politics  


“With a strong majority of Floridians saying climate change has them concerned about the well-being of future generations in the state, it makes sense that Floridians support policies to tackle the issue,” Polsky said.

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FAU Launches Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Fort Lauderdale

The Boca Raton Tribune  online


Florida Atlantic University has announced the establishment of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Fort Lauderdale. Classes will take place at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in the Abdo New River Room, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesdays, March 12 and 26, and April 23. The series is $50 and individual lectures can be purchased for $20. There will be a reception following each of the lectures. Tickets can be purchased at www.fau.edu/osherftlauderdale

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Two-Thirds of Floridians Concerned About Climate Change According to FAU

Miami Beach Times  


“In my experience in southeast Florida for the past five years, the private sector leaders are, regardless of party affiliation, not only actively concerned about challenges linked with our changing climate, but also committed to meaningful actions,” Polsky said.

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During Peak King Tide Season, FAU Researchers Talk About Sea-Level Rise Resiliency

WLRN  online


Colin Polsky, who directs the FAU center, said Huston’s project fills a gap that scientific data can't: qualitative information. The descriptions can help the team hone in on what areas need more attention when it comes to resiliency.

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Elevate the climate change discourse without blaming and shaming

Sun Sentinel  online


My knowledge is limited. In some debates, my eyes just glaze over. If the discussion becomes heated, then I also tune out. So I get why the climate change debate is caught in such a logjam. When speaking publicly, I find most people genuinely open-minded and curious. They really want to know whether or not climate change is real, human-made, and problematic. But their eyes soon glaze over, and then they tune out. The reason is simple: the discourse is not only complex but also full of fear and vitriol. That is not a good recipe for successful communications. Fortunately, we can clarify these questions without complexity — and without blaming and shaming.

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Selected Articles (3)

A multi-city comparison of front and backyard differences in plant species diversity and nitrogen cycling in residential landscapes

Landscape and Urban Planning

Dexter H Locke, Meghan Avolio, Tara Trammel, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, J Morgan Grove, John Rogan, Deborah G Martin, Neil Bettez, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Peter M Groffman, Sharon J Hall, James B Heffernan, Sarah E Hobbie, Kelli L Larson, Jennifer L Morse, Christopher Neill, Laura A Ogden, Jarlath PM O'Neil-Dunne, Diane Pataki, William D Pearse, Colin Polsky, Megan M Wheeler

2018 We hypothesize that lower public visibility of residential backyards reduces households’ desire for social conformity, which alters residential land management and produces differences in ecological composition and function between front and backyards. Using lawn vegetation plots (7 cities) and soil cores (6 cities), we examine plant species richness and evenness and nitrogen cycling of lawns in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Los Angeles (LA), and Salt Lake City (SLC). Seven soil nitrogen measures were compared because different irrigation and fertilization practices may vary between front and backyards, which may alter nitrogen cycling in soils. In addition to lawn-only measurements, we collected and analyzed plant species richness for entire yards—cultivated (intentionally planted) and spontaneous (self-regenerating)—for front and backyards in just two cities: LA and SLC. Lawn plant species and soils were not different between front and backyards in our multi-city comparisons. However, entire-yard plant analyses in LA and SLC revealed that frontyards had significantly fewer species than backyards for both cultivated and spontaneous species. These results suggest that there is a need for a more rich and social-ecologically nuanced understanding of potential residential, household behaviors and their ecological consequences.

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Shrinking suburbs in a time of crisis

The Routledge Companion to the Suburbs

Justin B. Hollander, Colin Polsky, Dan Zinder, Dan Runfola

2018 In recent years, increased scholarly attention has been paid to the fall-out from the 2008 subprime lending debacle, a national collapse of the housing market that resulted in massive foreclosures and widespread housing vacancy throughout the United States. In this chapter, we seek to understand the physical impacts of economic contraction on housing occupancy patterns before and after the Great Recession. Additionally, we ask whether or not different census-defined density-determined regions – urbanized areas, metropolitan statistical areas, and rural areas – were affected uniformly during economic contraction.

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Continental-scale homogenization of residential lawn plant communities

Landscape and Urban Planning

Megan M Wheeler, Christopher Neill, Peter M Groffman, Meghan Avolio, Neil Bettez, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Lindsay Darling, J Morgan Grove, Sharon J Hall, James B Heffernan, Sarah E Hobbie, Kelli L Larson, Jennifer L Morse, Kristen C Nelson, Laura A Ogden, Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne, Diane E Pataki, Colin Polsky, Meredith Steele, Tara LE Trammell

2017 Residential lawns are highly managed ecosystems that occur in urbanized landscapes across the United States. Because they are ubiquitous, lawns are good systems in which to study the potential homogenizing effects of urban land use and management together with the continental-scale effects of climate on ecosystem structure and functioning. We hypothesized that similar homeowner preferences and management in residential areas across the United States would lead to low plant species diversity in lawns and relatively homogeneous vegetation across broad geographical regions. We also hypothesized that lawn plant species richness would increase with regional temperature and precipitation due to the presence of spontaneous, weedy vegetation, but would decrease with household income and fertilizer use. To test these predictions, we compared plant species composition and richness in residential lawns in seven U.S. metropolitan regions. We also compared species composition in lawns with understory vegetation in minimally-managed reference areas in each city. As expected, the composition of cultivated turfgrasses was more similar among lawns than among reference areas, but this pattern also held among spontaneous species. Plant species richness and diversity varied more among lawns than among reference areas, and more diverse lawns occurred in metropolitan areas with higher precipitation. Native forb diversity increased with precipitation and decreased with income, driving overall lawn diversity trends with these predictors as well. Our results showed that both management and regional climate shaped lawn species composition, but the overall homogeneity of species regardless of regional context strongly suggested that management was a more important driver.

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