Sea levels surrounding South Florida typically go up faster than in the rest of the world. In fact, the local sea level has risen by about one foot since the 1930s, but the continuing trend has begun to threaten local property owners and residents.
Now, so-called nuisance floods that were once rare have become ordinary phenomena. Studies have confirmed that the sea level in Florida rises faster than in any other part in the world, and this puts Floridians in a particularly difficult problem for which there is no easy solution.
What is Causing the Sea Level Rise in Miami?
University of Florida scientists Arnoldo Valle-Levinson has analyzed a near-century of sea level records to determine what the root cause of the sea level rise is. Since tide stations have been recording this information for 95 years, there is plenty of data to work with.
What he found is that water pools up along the Southwestern United States because it is pushed by atmospheric pressure differences along the Atlantic Ocean. These differences in atmospheric pressure mean that Iceland has relatively little to fear in terms of sea level rises, while Miami gets the full brunt of the assault.
In order to test these results, Valle-Levinson and his team need to compare their data with sediment records. However, sediment records don’t offer the same level of year-by-year accuracy that scientific measurements do – they are closer to the measurements archaeologists use to determine how many millions of years ago dinosaurs lived.
Nevertheless, the findings illustrate a clear connection between atmospheric pressure along the Atlantic and rising sea levels in Miami. It is also well-known that carbon emissions have exactly this effect on atmospheric pressure. This leads to the powerful argument for carbon emission reduction being the only solution for halting the Miami sea level rise.
What If Carbon Emissions Do Not Stop?
If carbon emissions continue unabated, Miami’s constant flooding problem is likely to only get worse. Miami is a world-class metropolis that stands to lose an enormous amount of assets in the case of general and unstoppable flooding.
Miami residents are likely to hold onto their homes and properties for as long as possible. Many have already taken steps to raise their homes’ foundations, even if only by a few inches. Scientists expect the most severe instances of flooding to occur within 50 to 100 years – but in the meantime, the property damage will become more and more common.
This will also affect one of Miami’s largest industries. Miami’s sandy beaches are a powerful draw for tourism, yet the city’s beaches are in a constant state of erosion. The city has recently spent tens of millions of dollars replenishing this part of its coastal infrastructure – should rising sea levels make the area untenable for tourism, the city-wide population would suffer economically.
This will happen long before chronic flooding becomes permanent. In most scientist’s timelines, unabated sea level rises will make most people leave the most frequently flooded areas in the city before permanent damage sets in. It could take as few as twenty years for the first residents to see previously top-dollar real estate as essentially worthless because of the amount of time it spends submerged in water.
This is particularly important because of the fact that the floodwaters are so saline. Saltwater flooding is much more damaging than freshwater flooding, and it will not take long for residents to discover that they are unable to properly insure their homes and cars simply because insurers are no longer willing to consider properties in those areas.
This is likely to be the first phase of the oncoming crisis, and Miami’s response to it will largely define the following decades of mitigation. However, short of having the municipal government invest in raising the city sufficiently to put off the problem for future generations, there it little it can do on its own.
Where Else Will This Happen?
Climate scientists consider Miami Beach as the foremost indicator of sea level rise in the United States. For all intents and purposes, it is the ground zero for studying this phenomenon. However, by the time the problem becomes intractable in Miami, it will already represent a worsening issue in a number of other areas.
Jersey Shore, for instance, is almost certainly going to be chronically inundated by the time Miami Beach reaches the moment of environmental crisis. So too will North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound and South Carolina’s Low Country.
The West Coast is significantly better off than the East, but it will have its own share of problems to deal with by the end of the century. Some experts warn that cities in the San Francisco Bay area may begin to chronically flood as early as 2060.