Sea Level Rise in Florida

Sea level rise is an increase in the standard of the world’s oceans consequent to the influence of global warming 2. According to a study published in Nature Communications, by 2100 many coastal cities such as Miami, New Orleans, and Houston that are currently home for more than 200 million people could be durably below sea level 1. In Recent years, Florida’s sea level has increased as it will take around 31 years for the sea level to rise by 6 inches in Miami. Currently, the speed at which Florida’s sea level is rising by as much as 1 inch every 3 years. Scientists are now predicting that the sea level will rise by another 6 inches in the next 15 years 3. As reported “Sea level rise presents diverse, complex challenges to southeast Florida, with flooding and water-supply impacts that extend from the coast to the Everglades” 3.

Causes of Sea Level Rise:

One of the causes of global warming is fossil fuel consumption as carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses are released into the air. The oceans absorb the bulk of the heat and when the water increases in heat, the gases evaporate. This leads to a worldwide increase in sea levels 1. The two largest contributors that impact sea level rise in Florida are melting ice from the North and the South Poles and slowing of the Gulf Stream 3. Recent research indicates that the biggest sources of ice melt are ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica which are now melting very fast. Scientists are worried about Antarctica because its size is twice the United States size which contains 90% of the earth’s ice. As the ice is impacted by the ocean currents, the ice will start to melt and break into chunks quickly 4. The average speed of the water that is moving in the Gulf Stream is 4 miles per hour, and its amount of water is 150 times greater than the Amazon River 5. Due to the Gulf Stream decelerating, less water is brought up from the East Coast which leads to leaving more water to pile up and result in the sea level rising in Florida 6.

  • This is how slowing Gulf Stream increases sea level rise:
  • This is how ice melt contributes to sea level rise:

Consequences of Sea Level Rise:

Sea level rise causes serious consequences that could threaten coastal life in Florida. These outcomes include increased intensity of storm surges, flooding, and damage to infrastructure and home which leads to loss of the state economy 2. Drainage systems are created to channel excess rainwater from the streets and drain it into the sea. However, high pressure from rising sea and tides can drive the seawater back into these pipes and spill out the streets. As a result, it would cause flooding even on days without rain 3. In addition, sea level rise can make storms and hurricanes worse and damaging. For example, Hurricane Irma reached landfall in Cudjoe Key as a category 4 hurricane in 2017. Irma resulted in damages over $50 billion and 25% of the Keys were destroyed. Without sea level rise, Hurricane Irma’s 8-foot storm surge would have been lower 6. Sea level rise can result in loss for the state economy through affecting some economic aspects such as agriculture and fishing. To illustrate, agriculture will be impacted through the northward shift of insects and weeds, flooding from sea level rise, and hurricane storm surges. Appropriately, a drier and warmer climate will raise the agricultural demand for water, and competition for the water resource. Therefore, water will become more limited 8. Moreover, warmer weather, sea level rise, and more intense hurricanes will lead to effect on the estuaries and coral reefs, on which many fish species depend for reproduction nurseries. Consequently, many species will be jeopardized by human-made structures that prevent migration of estuaries species inland 8.

What state and federal officials do to protect the community?

First, the locals should take action to defend the community and consult with state and federal officials for useful solutions. Second, the state and federal should help fund fundamental community solutions and encourage smart planning in state and federal programs. In addition, there are some programs that protect Florida communities from sea level rise impacts such as building seawalls, raising roads, building stormwater pumps, upgrading sewage systems, using beaches as barriers, creating natural infrastructure, slowing land sinking, and managed retreat (a coordinated movement of people and buildings away from risks) 9.

What should we do?

As individuals, we should take actions to keep the Florida community safe. There are four types of actions that can guide solutions such as proactive protection, building back stronger, future-proofing communities, and conservative planning 9. Furthermore, individuals have an effective role to notify the local officials about the risk they may face from flooding 9. Individuals can also understand the flood risks, buy flood insurance, raise the expensive stuff, elevate houses, and relocate 9.

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  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12808-z.pdf 
  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/sea-level-rise/  
  3. https://sealevelrise.org/states/florida/
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Irma
  8. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FE787