South Florida: Mathew Will Show Why Sea Level is a Climate Game Changer

October 6, 2016

Still the most popular vid in the “This is Not Cool” series for Yale Climate Connections.
Never more relevant than today.

I’ll be in Miami, if my flight isn’t cancelled, next week, with Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone. Jeff is following the story of Sea Level rise, and was with us in Greenland for the first few days of Dark Snow project 2013.
His piece about a hypothetical major hurricane hitting a climate-vulnerable Miami is only getting more haunting.

Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone, Goodbye Miami:

When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030, there was a foot of sand covering the famous bow-tie floor in the lobby of the Fontaine­bleau hotel in Miami Beach. A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum. Most of the damage occurred not from the hurricane’s 175-mph winds, but from the 24-foot storm surge that overwhelmed the low-lying city. In South Beach, the old art-deco­ buildings were swept off their foundations. Mansions on Star Island were flooded up to their cut-glass doorknobs. A 17-mile stretch of Highway A1A that ran along the famous beaches up to Fort Lauderdale disappeared into the Atlantic. The storm knocked out the wastewater-treatment plant on Virginia Key, forcing the city to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay. Tampons and condoms littered the beaches, and the stench of human excrement stoked fears of cholera. More than 800 people died, many of them swept away by the surging waters that submerged much of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale; 13 people were killed in traffic accidents as they scrambled to escape the city after the news spread – falsely, it turned out – that one of the nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, an aging power plant 24 miles south of Miami, had been destroyed by the surge and sent a radioactive cloud over the city.

The president, of course, said Miami would be back, that the hurricane did not kill the city, and that Americans did not give up. But it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end. With sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, South Florida was wet, vulnerable and bankrupt. Attempts had been made to armor the coastline, to build sea walls and elevate buildings, but it was a futile undertaking. The coastline from Miami Beach up to Jupiter had been a little more than a series of rugged limestone crags since the mid-2020s, when the state, unable to lay out $100 million every few years to pump in fresh sand, had given up trying to save South Florida’s world-famous­ beaches. In that past decade, tourist visits had plummeted by 40 percent, even after the Florida legislature agreed to allow casino gambling in a desperate attempt to raise revenue for storm protection. The city of Homestead, in southern Miami-Dade County, which had been flattened by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, had to be completely abandoned. Thousands of tract homes were bulldozed because they were a public health hazard. In the parts of the county that were still inhabitable, only the wealthiest could afford to insure their homes. Mortgages were nearly impossible to get, mostly because banks didn’t believe the homes would be there in 30 years. At high tide, many roads were impassable, even for the most modern semiaquatic vehicles.

But Hurricane Milo was unexpectedly devastating. Because sea-level­ rise had already pushed the water table so high, it took weeks for the storm waters to recede. Salt water corroded underground wiring, leaving parts of the city dark for months. Drinking-water­ wells were ruined. Interstate 95 was clogged with cars and trucks stuffed with animals and personal belongings, as hundreds of thousands of people fled north to Orlando, the highest ground in central Florida. Developers drew up plans for new buildings on stilts, but few were built. A new flexible carbon-fiber­ bridge was proposed to link Miami Beach with the mainland, but the bankrupt city couldn’t secure financing and the project fell apart. The skyscrapers that had gone up during the Obama years were gradually abandoned and used as staging grounds for drug runners and exotic-animal traffickers. A crocodile nested in the ruins of the Pérez Art Museum.

And still, the waters kept rising, nearly a foot each decade. By the latter end of the 21st century, Miami became something else entirely: a popular snorkeling spot where people could swim with sharks and sea turtles and explore the wreckage of a great American city.

4 Responses to “South Florida: Mathew Will Show Why Sea Level is a Climate Game Changer”

  1. Tom Bates Says:

    Miami is sinking from ground subsidence. Ocean rise is no more than 4 inches in 100 years. Matthes storm surge is 7 to 11 feet and affects all those building built on sand that are sinking in Miami. Stop using the ground water and stop diverting the surface flows which recharge the ground water and the city stops sinking,

    • oscarinfw Says:

      If you want to reverse ground water usage in Miami, you need to reverse population growth. This will happen as it is inevitable that sea level rise (not just ground subsidence) will not only drown the coastlines but contaminate fresh water sources as the porous rocks will allow increasing levels of sea water to percolate into the heretofore “fresh” ground waters.

      The rate of sea level rise is increasing as the oceans warm and glaciers melt. The only issue is how fast it will happen and how much time is available for today’s coastal communities to adapt to new realities.

  2. bvikay Says:

    One of the firstthngswe learned in Geology 101 was that the east coast of the USA was a sinking coast line. The west coast is a rising coast line. Primarily due to the tectonic plates. Oh, hum.

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