Global Warming

Florida called ‘ground zero’ for flood risk

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March 21  |  Florida, Global Warming, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

Global warming could swell seas three feet higher by 2100, putting more than 1.6 million Floridians at risk of flooding, according to research released Wednesday.

That many people in Florida live less than three feet above the high-tide line. And even more could fall within harm’s way from storm surge as melting ice caps catch up to all the warming in recent years, the researchers said.

“When you remove an ice cube from the freezer and put it on the table, it takes a while to melt,” said Ben Strauss, a researcher with Climate Central, a nonprofit group of scientists and journalists based in New Jersey. “While we still have time to act to slow sea-level rise, in the long run we’re already committed to a certain amount of sea-level rise.”

Strauss helped write two new studies that show for the first time the possible vulnerability of the nation’s population, housing and land from sea-level rise, including local timelines for how fast the risk is likely to increase.

The studies, published in Environmental Research Letters, also included scientists from the University of Arizona and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They mapped how the threat from even small increases in sea level affect storm surge, especially for people living less than 1 to 6 meters above the local average high tide line.

They found:

Florida ranks the most at-risk in the nation, with 894,339 housing units less than 1 meter above the high-tide line.

About 12,355 square miles of the coastal U.S. (an area bigger than Maryland) and 2,206 square miles in Florida lies less than 1 meter above the high-tide line, threatening about 2 million houses and 3.7 million people.

At the closest tide gauge to Brevard that the researchers examined, Fernandina Beach, sea level rose an average of 2.4 millimeters a year from 1959 to 2008.

Climate Central also plans to launch a website, SurgingSeas.org, which includes an interactive map to search risks at the neighborhood level.

“Florida is ground zero for sea level rise,” Strauss said.

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“The impacts that we present are probabilities,” he added. “People choose to live with different risks. This is not a guarantee of a result.”

At current sea-level rise estimates of 2 to 3 millimeters per year in Florida, the ocean would take more than 400 years to rise by 4 feet.

But fire, sewer, roads and other critical infrastructure along the Space Coast could be compromised by half that amount of rise, which could happen by 2050, according to a study two years ago of Satellite Beach. A quarter of the city’s current 3.4 square miles would go under water by 2100 if sea level rises 4 feet or higher, according to the study by a Melbourne consultant and a researcher at Florida International University.

“A lot of the flooding will occur along the lagoon side,” said Randall Parkinson, a local geologist who worked on the Satellite Beach study.

“I don’t think the state has a strategy, in fact I know they don’t,” Parkinson said.

“It’s a lot about what happens after you have a catastrophic event, how do you redevelop?” he said of the planning Florida ought to be doing.

In 2009, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties formed a compact to map out ways to adapt to climate change.

“At the state level, I think we’re going backwards,” Parkinson said. “But regional and local, that’s where we are beginning to see some progress.”

“The impacts that we present are probabilities,” he added. “People choose to live with different risks. This is not a guarantee of a result.”

At current sea-level rise estimates of 2 to 3 millimeters per year in Florida, the ocean would take more than 400 years to rise by 4 feet.

But fire, sewer, roads and other critical infrastructure along the Space Coast could be compromised by half that amount of rise, which could happen by 2050, according to a study two years ago of Satellite Beach. A quarter of the city’s current 3.4 square miles would go under water by 2100 if sea level rises 4 feet or higher, according to the study by a Melbourne consultant and a researcher at Florida International University.

“A lot of the flooding will occur along the lagoon side,” said Randall Parkinson, a local geologist who worked on the Satellite Beach study.

“I don’t think the state has a strategy, in fact I know they don’t,” Parkinson said.

“It’s a lot about what happens after you have a catastrophic event, how do you redevelop?” he said of the planning Florida ought to be doing.

In 2009, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties formed a compact to map out ways to adapt to climate change.

“At the state level, I think we’re going backwards,” Parkinson said. “But regional and local, that’s where we are beginning to see some progress.”

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