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Infrastructure protectionMiami “Ground Zero” for risks associated with sea level rise

Published 7 May 2014

During a special Senate hearing last month in Miami Beach, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) described Florida as “Ground Zero” for climate change and the threat it poses to coastal communities. Sea level rise is especially worrisome to Floridians because Miami has the most property assets at risk in the world, according to the World Resources Institute(WRI). Miami has $14.7 billion in beach front property. Also, fifteen million out of the state’s twenty million residents live in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise.

During a special Senate hearing last month in Miami Beach, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) described Florida as “Ground Zero” for climate change and the threat it poses to coastal communities. Sea level rise is especially worrisome to Floridians because Miami has the most property assets at risk in the world, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). Miami has $14.7 billion in beach front property, fifteen million out of the state twenty million resident live in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise.

Yahoo News reports that according to the WRI, the Florida coast has seen twelve inches of sea rise since 1870, and another nine inches to two feet rise is expected by 2060. Miami, however, is located just four feet above sea level.

We are on this massive substrate of limestone and coquina rock which is porous and infused by water,” Nelson said at the hearing, held on the 44th anniversary of Earth Day. “You could put up a dyke but it is not going to do any good,” he added, comparing the land beneath Florida to Swiss cheese. “So we have to come up with new, innovative kinds of solutions.”

Mayor Philip Levine of Miami Beach said residents have had to deal with waters getting into their homes and businesses during high tides and floods. Yahoo News notes that the city is exploring the use of tidal control valves and new water pumps to improve drainage, with three pumps planned to be installed before October’s high tides.

We are projecting the cost of being anywhere from three and four hundred million dollars,” Levine said.

Officials are also investigating new urban designs and city plans which would prepare the area for rising sea levels.

Climate change will bring with it more severe weather, and Piers Sellers, deputy director of the science and exploration directorate at NASA, says that by the end of the century, the intensity of hurricanes, including rainfall near the centers of the hurricanes, may increase. “Rising sea levels and coastal development will likely increase the impact of hurricanes and other coastal storms on those coastal communities and infrastructure,” he said.

Megan Linkin a natural hazards expert at Swiss Re Global Partnerships, notes that insurance companies are unprepared to cope with the reality of climate change. “Presently I know of no insurance or reinsurance company that directly includes the risk of climate change,” she told the hearing in Miami Beach. “And that is because our product is typically contracted on an annual basis, and in that time period the impact of any climate changes — including sea level rise — are too small and insignificant and without scientific consensus to responsibly include in our model and approach.”

For now, tourism in Florida continues to reach new heights. In 2013, 14.2 million visitors spent nearly $23 billion in the Miami area, and the year marked the first time more visitors came from foreign countries than from the United States, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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