Florida is 'Ground Zero' for sea level rise

April 22, 2014 by Diego Urdaneta
A man stands in a life guard station as he watches the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean in Miami Beach, Florida on September 27, 2006

Warm sunshine and sandy beaches make south Florida and its crown city, Miami, a haven for tourists, but the area is increasingly endangered by sea level rise, experts said Tuesday.

During a special Senate hearing held in Miami Beach, Senator Bill Nelson described south Florida as "Ground Zero" for and its threats to .

The perils for Miami are particularly concerning because it has the most assets at stake in the world in terms of assets like homes, beachfront hotels and businesses, according to the World Resources Institute, a global research firm.

Not only is there $14.7 billion in beachfront property, but Miami is also home to the world's fourth largest population of people vulnerable to rise, the WRI said.

Nearly 20 million people live in the entire state of Florida, and about three quarters live on the coast, said Nelson.

Waters rising

The waters around south Florida are rising fast. The Florida coast has already seen 12 inches (30 centimeters) of sea rise since 1870.

Another nine inches to two feet (23 to 61 centimeters) are anticipated by 2060, said the WRI.

Miami is located just four feet (1.22 meters) above sea level.

"We are on this massive substrate of limestone and coquina rock which is porous and infused by water," Nelson said at the hearing, held on the 44th anniversary of Earth Day.

"You could put up a dyke but it is not going to do any good," he added, describing the land beneath Florida as "like Swiss cheese."

A car makes its way down a flooded avenue in Miami, Florida on October 24, 2005 hours after hurricane Wilma swept through the area

"So we have to come up with new, innovative kinds of solutions," said Nelson, a Democratic senator who was born in Miami.

The mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, said residents are commonly seen wading through knee-deep waters to get to their homes and businesses during high tides and floods.

"This reality is not acceptable and it is getting worse," said Levine.

Officials are investigating the use of tidal control valves and new water pumps to improve drainage, with three pumps planned for installation before October's high tides, Levine said.

"We are projecting the cost of being anywhere from three and four hundred million dollars," he said.

Discussions are also under way on urban designs and city plans that could better equip the area for rising sea levels, he said.

High costs

Climate change may bring more severe weather, warned Piers Sellers, deputy director of the science and exploration directorate at NASA.

"What does all of this mean to Florida? By the end of the century the intensity of hurricanes, including rainfall near the centers of the hurricanes, may increase," Sellers said.

An Ibis is silhouetted as the sun sets in Marathon, Florida in the Florida Keys on February 20, 2011

"Rising sea levels and coastal development will likely increase the impact of hurricanes and other coastal storms on those coastal communities and infrastructure."

Fred Bloetcher, a professor of engineering at Florida Atlantic University, said sea level rise is a present threat to "nearly six million Floridians, their economy and lifestyle, 3.7 trillion dollars in property in southeast Florida alone and a $260 billion annual economy."

Meanwhile, insurance companies are still unprepared to cope, said Megan Linkin, a natural hazards expert at Swiss Re Global Partnerships.

"Presently I know of no insurance or reinsurance company that directly includes the risk of climate change," she told the hearing.

"And that is because our product is typically contracted on an annual basis, and in that time period the impact of any climate changes—including —are too small and insignificant and without scientific consensus to responsibly include in our model and approach."

Despite the risks, tourism continues to boom in Florida.

In 2013, 14.2 million visitors spent nearly $23 billion in the Miami area, said William Talbert, president of the greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Last year also marked the first time in history that more visitors came from foreign countries than from the United States, he said.

Explore further: Long-term predictions for Miami sea level rise could be available relatively soon

Related Stories

Global warming could flood Florida coasts

April 23, 2008

Scientists studying the consequences of global warming in south Florida say rising sea levels could flood coastal cities and damage fresh water supplies.

Recommended for you

Weather anomalies accelerate the melting of sea ice

January 16, 2018

In the winter of 2015/16, something happened that had never before been seen on this scale: at the end of December, temperatures rose above zero degrees Celsius for several days in parts of the Arctic. Temperatures of up ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (3) Apr 22, 2014
Ahhh yes..

And the stupid Americans driving their 10 ton SUV's, too and from the shops... profiting from ripping the other nations of the world off, for their oil and minerals and drugs, shooting thousands of tons of depleted uranium weapons across the middle east - sit there pissing in their pants over ocean level rises...

"Awwwww the water is coming in past the door seals?" - as they drive their 10 ton SUV's through the floods...

Better put in new door seals - that will fix it.

Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (3) Apr 23, 2014
Miami - Lets put out more TV shows like Miami Vice - where the gym bunnies race around in fairy land, in fast exotic European super cars, that go through fuel faster than a camp full of alcoholics with a beer truck.

And lets export the "Merkin Dream" to the whole world - the fantasy land Hollywood bullshit of wastefulness equals wealth.....

And what about the toxic dead zone - the gulf of Mexico - when all the Monsanto chemicals and the shit from the refineries and all the dirty dead fish wash through the streets of Miami - what then?

The war mongering American Petro Chemical industry - dumping it's shit into the ocean and everglades....

"Hey the last flood re-tarred all out streets, lawns, trees, cars, houses, too bad about the dioxin and all the other nasty stuff that came with it....."

Maybe we could go kill 10 million more people in another country - that will fix it - it's all their fault. Just make sure that they have oil though. Don't want to do it without profit.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2014
1870...30 centimeters? I guess it's to late to build the sea walls..run for the hills or you'll all be eaten by fish....

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.