Florida and Rising Sea Levels

 This article is part of the 4sea Project.

2016 marked the third year of record high temperatures for mother earth. More than 90% of the heat that is associated with gas emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from human activity will be absorbed by the oceans. This leads to two main causes of sea level rise: the melting of glaciers and ice shelves and the thermal expansion of the ocean due to global warming. Florida is one of the several states that is in danger due to rising sea levels. Florida is located in the southeastern United States with 1,200 miles of sandy coastline and eighteen million residents who live less than 60 miles from either the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. Higher sea levels will worsen the impacts of storms, wave action, and high tides in this area by altering the frequency and intensity of each. This fact can be hazardous to Florida which has a maximum elevation of less than 400 feet above sea level.miami-1198921_1920

As storm surges push farther inland than they did at lower sea levels, nuisance flooding is increased from about 300% to 900% in frequency when compared to fifty years ago.  It is confirmed that over the past 100 years, Florida’s shoreline position has climbed up 20 centimeters or about 8 inches per year. It can be noted that water sources such as the Biscayne Aquifer in southern Florida is already facing threats from salt water contamination. Salt water intrusion is not only a threat to water cleanliness but it can alter communities of local plants and animals as well.   For example, rising sea waters will limit the productivity of the oyster reefs found in southwestern Florida due to their restriction to a intertidal habitat. This decrease in oysters may cause seabird decline due to more competition for less available food. New weakness in the population control predator, the oyster, can lead to exponential increases in prey such as plankton and algae.

oyster-catcher-1158165_640Major redistribution of mainland and barrier island sediments from rising sea levels can also impact wildlife in the area. For example, many species of fish spawn in gravel by laying eggs in empty spaces between the various particles of rock. If loose sediment fill in these spaces, the newly hatched fish will not have an escape route because the sediment blocks their way.

 

Moreover, Sea level rise can affect human populations in Florida also. Real estate firm Zillow has published a research analysis based off a study by the Washington Post that illustrates the amount of loss if sea levels rise up to six feet. In all of United States, this means that 882 billion worth of homes will be gone. In Florida, this scenario means that one in eight properties is danger of being underwater. Three-fourths of Florida’s coastal population generates 79% of the state’s total annual economy. If those homes near the coast are lost, 79% of Florida’s economy is at risk, not to mention over 130 billion worth of real estate. Additionally, salinity changes that come along with sea level rise will stress critical infrastructure within Florida. Two nuclear power plants, three state prisons, 68 hospitals, 74 airports, 114 solid waste disposal sites, 140 water treatment facilities, 334 public schools, 341 hazardous material cleanup sites, 1,025 houses of worship, and 19,624 historic structures are at risk in the near future if we do not act soon to halter carbon emissions.

sunset-1794369_640Even if all of the human caused gas emissions disappear today, sea levels will still continue to rise at a slower rate.  Predicting how much sea levels will rise in the future is an inexact science. When predicting sea level rise, shifts in oceanographic factors such as circulation patterns, Earth’s gravitational field and rotation, vertical land movements, and other non-climatic factors must be considered.  For Floridians, the question is not whether they will be affected by the rising oceans, but by how much. Thus, it is essential for Floridians to raise seawalls, build houses on higher ground, create flooding maps, and implement water valves to separate sea water from freshwater to prepare for the worst case scenario and Florida has already began. For example, Palm Beach County began supporting hybrid vehicles and adjusted traffic signal timing to reduce gas emissions. Additionally, the county also utilized plants to provide protection near the shorelines in place of concrete. However, Florida still has a lot of work to do to disprove their  C- in preparation for natural disasters evaluated by States at Risk, a climate change research group.

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About the author: Yifei Gao is a current Keller High School student who is an UNICEF voices of youth blogger and is involved with 4sea within CliMates.

This article has been written in the context of 4sea. 4sea, a project about the importance of the world oceans, addresses the interdependence between the oceans and climate change, entraining everyone to become ocean lovers – for now through articles and videos on this blog and in November on our own platform. 4sea is a joint project between the youth organisations CliMates, Youth for Ocean and Vitamin Sea. Love it? Stay tuned for our platform! 

References
1.CBS NEWS, Sea level rise will disproportionately hit U.S. this century, NOAA warns, [website],http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sea-level-rise-will-hit-the-us-this-century-noaa-warns/ (accessed 21 June 2017)
2.NOAA, Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States, [website], https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/techrpt83_Global_and_Regional_SLR_Scenarios_for_the_US_final.pdf (accessed 21 June 2017)
3.USA TODAY, New NOAA visualizations show worst-case scenario for sea levels by 2100, [website], https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/04/27/water-water-everywhere-your-neighborhood-underwater-2100/100987622/ (accessed 21 June 2017)
4.NOAA, Is sea level rising?, [website], https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html (accessed 21 June 2017)
5.National Geographic, Sea Level Rise, [website], http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/sea-level-rise/ (accessed 21 June 2017)
6.The Washington Post, As sea levels rise, nearly 1.9 million U.S. homes could be underwater by 2100, [website], https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/08/24/as-sea-levels-rise-23-states-could-see-nearly-1-9-million-homes-underwater/?utm_term=.3fd310a862ca (accessed 21 June 2017)
7.Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, Climate change and sea level rise in Florida an update of the effects of climate change on Florida’s Ocean and Coastal Resources, [website], http://www.dep.state.fl.us/oceanscouncil/reports/Climate_Change_and_Sea_Level_Rise.pdf (accessed 21 June 2017)
8.Sunsentinel, South Florida Continues to Prep for Sea Level Rise, [website], http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/broward-politics-blog/fl-reg-climate-change-sofla-20170221-story.html (accessed 7 July 2017)
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