Sea Level Rise in Florida Is No Laughing Matter

Guest Blog | September 5, 2012 | Climate Change
This is a guest post from Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists.  This post was originally published on the UCS blog, The Equation, on August 31, 2012.

Local sea level rise has increased so much since the Key West Airport was built, that during the “Super Moon” super high tide in May 2012 it was flooded with seawater.  Sea planes would have been more appropriate than jet planes during that day. Floridians are grappling with how to prepare their schools, roads, homes and airports to withstand sea level rise, accelerated by climate change.

Communities protecting their future in Florida

Whether it is sea level rise or extreme heat during pre-season football practice, many communities around the country are working together to plan for a new reality.  They are not mocking climate change or debating it. They are simply getting as ready as they can to deal with it. I saw the photo of the Key West airport with seawater coating jet plane wheels during a conference called “Risk and Response: Sea Level Rise Summit, The Future of Florida and the Coast.”   For pictures of flooded streets in Miami during a high tide flood take a look at Erika Spanger-Siegfried’s blog from the conference.

Miami Sea Level Rise Confidence 1 Ft NOAA
Figure 1: Confidence projections for sea level rise of 1 foot in the Miami Florida region (blue = high confidence (greater than 80 percent); yellow = low confidence). Source: Sea level rise viewer NOAA.

During the conference, planning officials and community leaders discussed how they worked to cross county boundaries to find ways to better protect their communities.  Four counties, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties over the winter of 2009/2010 adopted a “Southeast Regional Climate Change Compact.”  The adoption of a “Unified Sea Level Rise Plan” made the latest available evidence on sea level rise front and center:

“The Work Group recommended that the SE FL region agree to utilize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) July 2009 Guidance Document until more definitive information on future SLR is available and a 2060 time frame for planning purposes. It was also suggested that the group reconvene and consider new data and scientific evidence in three years. The projection uses Key West tidal data from 1913-1999 as the foundation of the calculation and references the year 2010 as the starting date of the projection.”

Miami Sea Level Rise Confidence 6 Ft NOAA
Figure 2: Confidence projections for sea level rise of 6 foot in the Miami Florida region (blue = high confidence (greater than 80 percent); yellow = low confidence). Source: Sea level rise viewer NOAA.

City officials working on the four county compact in southeast Florida understand there are grave risks of further climate change on transportation, drinking water quality, and accelerating sea level rise.   The latter makes periodic storm surges and super high tides of yesterday even more likely to flood coastal residents today and even more so in the future.  There really is a difference to Florida if seas rise another one foot versus six feet. Many city and county Florida officials get this and we need coastal state and national leaders to get the facts straight on sea level rise.  It is no laughing matter in Florida.


About the author: Brenda Ekwurzel is a climate scientist and assistant director of climate research and analysis at UCS. She has expertise on many aspects of climate variability including Arctic Ocean and sea ice, wildfires, groundwater, and coastal erosion. She holds a Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry from Columbia University (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory).

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