Sea Level Rise



By Kathy Panko, Environmental Issues Group

The seas around Florida have been rising for eons.  How quickly they rise over the next 100 years will pose a host of challenges for the state and reshape Florida in the years to come.  Timing is everything.

Historical Perspective

Florida has 18,000 years of experience with sea-level rise.  At the peak of the last glacial cycle, when seas were far lower, you could hike south from the site of present-day Tampa to Key West.  The beach sat 100 miles to the west of present-day Fort Myers.  Florida’s experience since the peak of the Ice Age shows unequivocally that the sea has been rising ever since that hike was possible.  The bulk of the rise occurred in the first thousand years after the Ice Age peak.  In the past 100 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports, the sea rose 9.5 inches.

Ice-Melt Acceleration

Sea-level rise over eons is just a yawn.  However, it becomes a problem when it occurs rapidly – particularly for a state with 20.5 million people.  Researchers project that later this century it will rise dramatically higher and faster because of a combination of Mother Nature’s workings and, mostly, man-made causes.  In the last half of the century, as ice-melt accelerates in Greenland and Antarctica, sea-level rise will intensify.  Nothing will prevent it.

Community Planning

In 2012, Florida began including sea-level rise in community planning by creating “adaption action areas” to focus on infrastructure that is susceptible to surges.

  • Fort Lauderdale’s last report listed 42 projects in 17 city areas that need improvement.
  • Miami-Dade is spending $50 million as part of a $600 million upgrade of a waste-water plant on Virginia Key in Key Biscayne Bay to elevate electrical and control components some 20 feet above sea level.  The existing facility is 10-14 feet above sea level.

Costs will rise as government tries to keep drainage systems ahead of rising seas and freshwater ahead of saltwater intrusion – costs will be too high for some areas to be saved.

More Changes Ahead  

Big changes appear in store for Florida. The state that went from a water-logged afterthought to the nation’s third-most-populous could see a reversal this century as land disappears.  Rising insurance premiums, business interruptions from flooding, and repeated flooding of homes and streets will, over time, force many Floridians to either relocate within the state or leave.

Florida has proven itself to be adaptable.  It strengthened building codes after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and rebuilt its insurance markets after Andrew and subsequent other storms.

The future of Florida entails accepting the science, collaborating, deciding what areas to protect, what to let go, and learning to live with water.


Source:  Florida Trend – November 2017