For Miami, Sea Level Rise Has Already Gone Exponential

(AP story showing the effects of 9 inches of sea level rise over the last 100 years. What the story doesn’t mention is that half of this sea level rise has occurred within the past 16 years and fully a third of it has occurred within the past 5 years. Video source: Associated Press.)

This week, Miami is scrambling to deal with a flooding emergency.

But the cause is not the looming approach of a major hurricane or even a powerful tropical storm. The flood emergency for the coming three days is simply a seasonal astronomical high tide. Something they are now calling a King Tide. A condition that arises due to solar and lunar alignment a few times every year. A gravitational flux that pushes high tides another foot or so above the normal range.

Decades or even years ago, astronomical high tide wasn’t so much of a problem for Miami. Now, it means flooded roads and runways. It means salt water backing up through city drainage and municipal water systems. It means sea walls over-topped. It means lawns, properties and businesses covered in water.

The crisis is so serious that the city has already allocated more than 400 million dollars to deal with the problem. And this week, crews and flood prevention planners are scrambling to face the rising seas.

Rapidly Rising Waters

 

Miami Sea Level Trend

(Peak high tide trend from 1998 through 2014 shows sea levels rose by 4.3 inches over the past 16 years with most of the rise occurring since 2008. Image source: Dr. Zhaohua Wu, FSU)

At issue is the fact that Miami is facing a climate change driven sea level rise that is in the process of going exponential. A ramping rate of water rise that is being driven by a combination of glacial melt, ocean expansion due to warming, a backing up of the Gulf Stream which is raising waters all along the Eastern Seaboard, and a continuation of land subsistence in South Florida due to a variety of factors.

From 1914 through 1998, sea levels rose by an average of 0.06 inches per year — a rate that was barely noticeable to residents and city planners alike. But from 1998 to 2009 the pace increased to a more troubling 0.14 inches per year. And from 2009 to the present year the pace again jumped to a terrifying 0.67 inches per year.

An exponential rate of sea level rise that, in the past year alone, raised Miami’s surrounding ocean waters by 0.86 inches. Should the observed sea level rise over recent years continue, Miami will be facing 6-9 feet of additional water by the end of this century and not the 3-4 feet currently predicted.

Vulnerable Miami, South Florida

Miami is particularly vulnerable to such rapid rates of sea level rise for a couple of reasons. First, most of Miami is less than four feet above 20th Century sea levels. So even moderate rates of sea level rise put major portions of the city under water. Second, the city sits on porous limestone. The rock, riddled with holes, leaks like a sieve. So building sea walls won’t help Miami much as water will simply rise up through the rocks themselves.

Because Miami is so low-lying and surrounded on almost all sides by water, it is often seen as one of the most vulnerable cities to human-driven climate change. However, the geological conditions are not unique to Miami and remain a problem for almost all Florida cities. The porous limestone is a feature of the entire Florida Peninsula. So the problems Miami is facing now will become problems for hundreds of cities and communities up the coast and in more central regions of the state as well.

At most immediate risk is all of South Flordia. Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have about half of their residents living below the 4 foot above sea level line. Collier and Monroe counties also boast very large populations within just 4 feet of already rapidly rising seas. Such a rise would generate inland water upwelling throughout much of south Florida and the Everglades even as many coastal regions faced inundation. Small, low-lying islands and barrier zones would be swallowed by the sea or broken by incursions through weak points. The mangroves, already in retreat, would be swiftly beaten back. Inland lakes, invaded by higher pressure salt water from below, would also rise.

FinalUnifiedSLRProjection

(Sea level rise observations and projections through 2060 for Key West. Note that observations end at 2009 and that the tidal gauges have recorded a 3 inch sea level rise from 2009 through 2014 for Miami — already hitting the bottom range of expected sea level rise by 2030. Image source: Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Page.)

As an example, seasonal high tides are already having an effect on the Delray Beach region that is starkly similar to problems now plainly visible in Miami. In the historic Marina neighborhood, water bubbles up from storm drains and spills over the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway into streets.

Charle Dortch, a resident for 17 years said in a recent interview with the Sun Sentinel:

“It’s progressively getting worse. The water is coming up the roadway right into people’s front yards. It’s flooding the parking area. It’s coming up higher and higher every year.”

Links:

Water, Water Everywhere: Sea Level Rise in Miami

Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Page

Southwest Florida Governments Not Planning For Sea Level Rise

The Ocean is Already Higher

In Miami, The King Tide is Coming

Associated Press

Sea Level Rise: Everglades

Florida and Rising Seas

Dr. Zhaohua Wu, FSU

(Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs)

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59 Comments

  1. I didn’t need to know this right now :-)…seriously, it’s very scary.

    Reply
  2. Henri

     /  October 7, 2014

    Seems a lot of the problems concerning climate change has to do with water. Too much or too little of water or just water in the wrong places seems to be the new norm.

    Last summer I had an experience remotely to do with water. Me and my friends returned to fish on a hard to get wilderness river. It was the first time we went there in just a bit over 10 years with our now sadly adult schedules hard to match for five people. The river used to have this really sparse and beautiful grey growth on it’s rocks unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Now it was sadly gone. What also was gone was the fish. The reason we endured the two day hike in one direction was the fact that the river gave trout, salmon, arctic char and grayling not just every trip but every day of every trip. Now all but grayling was gone.

    What we did see an abundance off instead of the fish was this green sludge. It was everywhere on the river and those small side ponds along the rapids were just full of it. When the water was undisturbed it was still pretty clear(ish) but the taste was foul and we ended up boiling all the water we drank just to be sure when we always before just drank it the way it was without ill effects. It can be that the sludge which had eluded us before is just a seasonal thing we just happened to miss on our previous trips but my layman’s opinion is it was an invasive species.

    The worst part of the case is apathy. I informed few authorities of the matter and nothing will be done. The local branch of department of environment wrote to me that as the river isn’t a subject of any industrial, agriculture or municipal runoff nor is the water taken to any of those uses, the matter doesn’t concern them. The only positive response was from a biology professor of the nearest university from the river who said they will send a thesis student to the site next summer if they can secure the funding. It’s certain i will never return to the river again (not to fish anyway) and i just wish i hadn’t gone at all this year so i would only remember it how it was, not how it is.

    Reply
  3. Stunning data… and we keep throwing the carbon dice at the climate.
    Thanks, Robert.

    “And the sea shall rise. and wash it all away.”
    – Gary Albers circa 1970. I line in his poem, part of the Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) Street Poet series.

    Reply
    • Photo of Isla Vista (mentioned in above poem) fighting the future. The town (my home for 9 yrs.) is a densely packed unincorporated ‘town’ next the UC Santa Barbara campus. It has overburdened and exploited by huge UC enrollments $$$, and real estate interests $$$. The ‘prime’ lots sit on 30′ ocean front bluffs.
      March 2, 2007 – The fronts of the two houses on the right have been cut back away from the cliff edge in response to beach cliff erosion, and the tops of the columns beneath the former seaward extensions of those houses have also been cut off. ©AGS2007.

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  October 8, 2014

        DT, do people still live in these precariously situated homes? If and when intense El Nino rains return, I wouldn’t want to be living right on the shore.

        This looks similar to the beach and (compacted sand) sea cliff erosion on outer Cape Cod, but without the pink houses on stilts.

        Reply
  4. Check out this news photo re: Miami Beach racing the water.
    © REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson Workers use barriers to cut off water flowing out of city pumps as they install new pumps to remove expected floodwaters in Miami Beach, Florida September 22, 2014.
    http://img.s-msn.com/tenant/amp/entityid/BB7e1RY.img?h=397&w=624&m=6&q=60&o=f&l=f

    Reply
  5. joni

     /  October 7, 2014

    Sea level rise topping previous predictions? Call me unsurprised and quite worried. There are literallly trillions of dollars (in real estate and otherwise) at stake in just the Miami metropolitan region alone……

    Reply
  6. Western Pacific Update:
    Mashable
    Oct. 7, 3:40 p.m. ET: Super Typhoon Vongfong has intensified further, with maximum sustained winds of about 180 miles per hour and gusts higher than 200 miles per hour. This puts it among the strongest storms on record, based on a satellite estimate.

    Super Typhoon Vongfong is now equivalent to a high-end Category 5 storm, and it is forecast to intensify further during the next six hours, until it has winds of about 195 miles per hour, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

    (NOAA infrared: http://rack.0.mshcdn.com/media/ZgkyMDE0LzEwLzA3LzFjL3Zvbmdmb25nY2F0LmEwMDExLmdpZgpwCXRodW1iCTk1MHg1MzQjCmUJanBn/c326097d/db9/vongfong-cat5.jpg

    Reply
  7. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

     /  October 7, 2014

    Even before Miami residents find daily life more challenging because of rising water, urban South Florida will have an influx of wildlife from insects to pythons, black bears, and Florida panthers displaced from the Everglades, much of which is lower than Miami.

    Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  October 8, 2014

      Why isn’t Hollywood all over this – a real life horror movie that will unfold over the next 70 or so years? “Invasion of the Swamp Pythons” anyone?

      Reply
      • joni

         /  October 8, 2014

        Soon. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Miami as we know and love wont exist in 30 years from now, let alone 70….

        Reply
      • But Mark from New England, fact is far more colorful. Miami (and much of Florida) is a major real estate greed capital. Plus, when organized crime had to leave Cuba after the revolution much of their energy went into real estate, etc. All the construction $$$, the kickbacks, the empty building codes, corrupt right wing politics… An American greed scheme built on porous values.
        Then there is the Al Gore “Inconvenient Truth” presidency stopped cold in its tracks in Florida in 2000.
        It’s a terrible situation in any event.

        Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  October 8, 2014

        DT, good points. I wonder if Gov. Rick Scott will change his beliefs about AGW when Miami,
        the Everglades, and the rest of south Florida is under water?

        Reply
  8. wili

     /  October 8, 2014

    “Second, the city sits on porous limestone. The rock, riddled with holes, leaks like a sieve. So building sea walls won’t help Miami much as water will simply rise up through the rocks themselves.”

    This is an important point, worth repeating. I often see people write in blogs, “Hey, what’s the big deal? The Netherlands have been holding back the sea for centuries.” Leaving aside other problems with Netherlandizing a considerable portion of the global coasts, in a number of places such as here, it is simply not going to work at all for geological reasons.

    Reply
  9. jyyh

     /  October 8, 2014

    yes, you’ll get a proper archipelago in there at the limit of +3C (equilibrium temperature). I think one estimate of sea levels was something of this magnitude, 3.bp.blogspot.com/-uKtRfTE6SiA/VDS_LboBBTI/AAAAAAAAAcI/vQAQQt1__tM/s1600/floridaadd25.png

    after two degrees limit (I think) it’s not anymore certain if anything humans do will prevent this, as the natural carbon cycle is getting too messed with overshoot of several animal species trying to eat most of the plants they’re unfamiliar with (north/up of their current range). Tropics might simply dry up, releasing carbon in loads, at least this has been predicted for Amazon.

    Reply
    • It looks like the tropics do dry out. India, Brazil, SE Asia …

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  October 8, 2014

        Very tragic that the areas with the highest biodiversity on the planet will dry out the most and areas like Russia and Canada may get increased rainfall later this century.

        Reply
  10. Apneaman

     /  October 8, 2014

    “An American greed scheme built on porous values.”😉

    Reply
    • Was waiting for this one…

      Reply
    • And to think I still have fossil fuel cheerleaders trying to defend this stuff on my ‘To Fear Peak Oil or to Pursue it?’ post.

      Sorry but they’ll have to take the fossil fuel cheerleading elsewhere.

      Reply
      • Apneaman

         /  October 8, 2014

        As of a few minutes ago, I can only find 4 stories on this criminal disaster and none of them are from the MSN. Oh yes the silence is deafening. Of course there is this cheer-leading puff piece from the wall street murdoch- 3hrs old. I’m sure we will hear something after the spin doctors perform their surgeries.

        California Finally to Reap Fracking’s Riches
        Crude-by-Rail From Bakken Shale Is Poised to Reverse State Refiners’ Rising Imports

        http://online.wsj.com/articles/california-finally-to-reap-frackings-riches-1412700677

        Reply
  11. Ryan O'Connor

     /  October 8, 2014

    It’s amazing, and sad, to think that by time children born today are old enough to retire, Miami and most other coastal cities will either be deserted or in the process of being abandoned. And that’s without acceleration of sea level rise due to positive feedbacks that are currently being triggered. And still half of all Americans rabidly assert that “global warming is a hoax”, or “global warming stopped (insert chosen # here) years ago”. The ignorance displayed by the average American is so pathetic and inexcusable it is beyond my ability to convey in words. As a society we are far too apathetic and way too obsessed with mindless consumption to voluntarily implement the changes in behavior, policy and energy production that are required to deal with such a massive and culturally pervasive problem. Not to mention the companies that are the root of the problem have influenced the government to no longer differentiate between American and corporate interests…they have become the same thing. I really don’t see a way out of this. It’s beyond depressing, and the main reason I will never have children.

    Reply
  12. “And from 2009 to the present year the pace again jumped to a terrifying 0.67 inches per year.”

    “… in the past year alone, raised Miami’s surrounding ocean waters by 0.86 inches.”

    It would be interesting to see what the prognosis is due to the acceleration. Can defenses be built quick enough, high enough and sturdy enough to safe that city? As Robert mentioned, the limestone is not sturdy, it dissolves and is undermined easily.

    That is astounding. Having driven through there, down through the Keys (as many others have) my mind goes to that giant swamp just south of Miami. Since that giant gooey pile of compost is held together by the root structure of the plants it bodes poorly when it is invaded by salt water. The plants die, and that giant swamp could simply fall apart and join the ocean with a sad highway subsiding through it.

    Simply add a storm surge. That city is living on borrowed time.

    Anyone have thoughts on the effects on sinkholes due to the subterranean invasion of salt water?

    I took a glance at water wells, number, use & contamination in that area. It appears that well water is depended upon in South Florida pretty heavily. That’s some bad mojo down the road (not very far down that road by all appearances).

    Reply
    • Andy,

      What’s happening to the swamp now started in the La. Gulf coast in the 1930s. Route LA-1 which used to run through cypress forest on its way to Grand Isle, is now a subsiding highway through mangroves for the last stretch of its run. Of course, the cypress are now much further north.

      Reply
      • Andy (at work)

         /  October 8, 2014

        The metric I read on the delta there is the loss of ~ a football field worth of land per day (~16 square miles / year ).

        With encroachment due to higher water levels in the gulf becoming more aggressive in it’s inland reach I wonder if that figure is showing (or will show) acceleration. Combined with subsistence and the loss of replenishing river fed soil, I would surmise that the 16 sq miles is on the increase as well.

        Reply
        • Louisiana is currently losing 34 square miles of wetland each year… It has already lost 1,900 square miles since 1932. With SLR potentials looking worse, the whole region is facing a rather dire future.

    • Mark from New England

       /  October 8, 2014

      Andy,

      Yes, we’ve perhaps seen ‘peak Florida’ in terms of population and economic development. It’s all downhill from here, down a very short (Florida-sized) hill into an oncoming wave of salt water without end.

      It’s tragic the Everglades will be inundated. People in Miami and south Florida can move north in a controlled evacuation over time, the animals and plants cannot so readily – though I admit the thought of all those exotic snakes moving to what little upland will exist is unnerving. Most of that upland is heavily developed.

      Reply
      • We’ll be facing mass migrations from many regions. South FL will be one of the first.

        Reply
      • Apneaman

         /  October 8, 2014

        What plans does the government have for the Turkey point nuclear power plant that is right on the coast just south of Miami? My understanding is it takes 30-60 years to decommission one of those bad boys at great expense.

        Reply
    • The limestone is a sink for increasingly acidic water. I wonder if a major part of what we’re seeing in south FL is also due to accelerating subsistence.

      Good points, Andy, as ever.

      Reply
  13. Robert In New Orleans

     /  October 8, 2014

    Officials ill prepared to help those outside levee system, Tulane study finds:

    http://thelensnola.org/2014/10/02/offiicals-ill-prepared-to-help-those-outside-of-levee-system-tulane-study-finds/

    Reply
  14. Looking at that long stretch of warm air over southern and eastern Greenland — and knowing how much of its ice is a heat absorbing and retaining black, I am reminded that a significant ‘heat island’ must exist there.
    For our local KBOO FM radio, I recently reported on Portland’s high ranking as a major ‘urban heat island’. Much of PDX is black asphalt, and has been averaging (in summertime) about 5 F of extra heat. Also, night time temps are close to 9 F warmer — less cool down.
    Greenland must have something similar going on.
    Climate Reanalyzer:

    Reply
    • Still focusing on the warm Arctic regions (the above Climate Reanalyzer) — the Barrents Sea has attracted a few recognizable corporate oil and gas extractors. BP, Shell, Suncor, et al.
      I hope this officerofthewatch.files blog graphic shows it all: barents-sea-oil-and-gas-resources-figure-2.

      Reply
  15. Edward Boyle

     /  October 8, 2014

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140303211257.htm
    backing up of gulf stream by 10-15% as maintained elsewhere denied here ss cause for rising seas on esstern seaboard. I understood it was higher gravity due to greenland sucking extra water from everywhere there.

    I was reading some history. We stole florida from indians and built unsustainably. Good riddance to this culture. Ditto on cali. Sorry for cynicism.

    Reply
  16. Andy (at work)

     /  October 8, 2014

    Apneaman brought up Turkey Point as a concern. I did a bit of digging on the subject.

    Turkey point is built on a 20 foot fill (we can call it ~20 ft above sea level), and is anticipated/planned to run to 2035. They have modeled the safety barrier & land fill and declared it safe, however these calculation are assuming between 0.78 & 1.0 feet in sea level increase over the next century. The modeling has determined that a max storm surge will thus be 1.2 feet below an over topping (hazardous) event (at current sea levels). The issue here is the 0.78 – 1.0 feet in 100 years. With the 0.67″ – 0.86″ per year which is occurring, the 1.2 feet of “protection” can be compromised in 21 years (best case), or 16.74 years at 0.86″ sea level rise rate. With the acceleration of the rise rate, 16.74 years may be way too optimistic. Perhaps they back filled their calculations to fit what they have in place?

    Decommissioning can be from 20 to 60 years for a N plant.

    At 20 years, after a shutdown in 2035 the cooling ponds with rods may still be in place. This would be during 2055. That is 41 years from now. At a rise rate of ~1″ / year, sea level would be ~41″ higher (~4.5′). Also, the ocean would be much closer, causing the facility to likely be on essentially an island with a susceptibility to a much smaller storm surge.

    At a 40 year decommissioning (2075), at a rise rate of 1″/year the sea level would be 81″ higher (~7ft). The plant would at best be an island with encroaching water eroding the berms & fill. It would not take much storm surge to top this.

    NOTE: in April of this year, approval was received to operate these plants (Turkey Point) at much higher temperatures for the cooling system, as the local water is getting pretty toasty. The canals used for cooling now can reach 104F degrees, and they are now allowed to cool with that, provided they pump 12 million gallons of cooler water / day from the water system into it. Algae blooms are now occurring in the cooling canals and are entering the cooling pipe system.

    Reply
  17. Apneaman

     /  October 8, 2014

    Everybody’s favorite oddball Canadian scientist weighs in on the recent
    “methane controversy”

    Reply
  1. For Miami, Sea Level Rise Has Already Gone Exponential | GarryRogers Nature Conservation
  2. Global Sea Level Rise Going Exponential? New Study Records Big Jump in Ocean Surface Height | robertscribbler

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