Rising Sea Levels Could Destroy Hundreds Of Thousands Of Florida Homes Over The Next Few Decades

Over the next thirty years, more than 300,000 homes throughout Florida could experience chronic flooding and destruction, according to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Southern Florida is the primary flood zone, full of lowland plains that are at risk of being pushed underwater by rising sea levels.

Currently, about 6 million people live in southern Florida, and approximately 300,000 of them could have their homes chronically flooded as rising sea levels put their homes in the middle of the high tide region. The report from the Union of Concerned Scientists states that this high sea level rise scenario will start occurring in approximately the next 15 years, worsening over the following years until about 30 coastal communities will be at risk for flooding by 2045.

15 Feet Of Sea Level Rise?

Nicole Hernandez Hammer, climate researcher and activist, analyzed the UCS data to estimate that out of all 48 states in the continental United States, Florida has the most property at risk from flooding. Hernandez Hammer predicts that at the current level of sea level rise more than a million properties will be experiencing chronic flooding by the century’s end.

Harold Wanless, chair of the geology department at the University of Miami, explains that the majority of the heat the Earth is being exposed to is contained within the ocean. Since global heat levels are increasing, the amount of heat in the ocean itself is expanding. This contributes to sea level rise and sets the stage for the rapid melting of ice. Ice sheets located in Antarctica and Greenland are in danger of collapsing into the ocean, which will cause sea levels to rise even faster than current models predict.

Greenland is currently experiencing chunks of ice shearing off that are so large they cause earthquakes that register a six or seven on the moment magnitude scale (the Richter scale is no longer used by seismologists). Ice melt wasn’t extremely noticeable prior to the 1990’s, but the ice melt rate is accelerating every year.

Many of Florida’s communities already lie low near water. Photo: Mariamichelle via Pixabay, CC0

Currently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects that sea levels will rise by approximately two feet by the century’s end. Meanwhile, the United Nations predict a rise of three feet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the ocean could rise by as much as six and a half feet. Yet Wanless thinks these predictions are too low. The sea level rise rate is currently doubling every seven years, and if this growth trend continues the sea will have risen by 205 feet by the year 2095. While Wanless doesn’t think this will happen, that the rate of growth will slow down, he thinks our society will have to prepare for the possibility of dramatic sea rise. Wanless explains:

The rate of sea level rise is currently doubling every seven years, and if it were to continue in this manner, Ponzi scheme style, we would have 205 feet of sea level rise by 2095… And while I don’t think we are going to get that much water by the end of the century, I do think we have to take seriously the possibility that we could have something like 15 feet by then.

The Biggest Meltwater Pulse In Human History

Geologic history shows that when sea levels have risen in the past, they have typically done so in rapid surges and quick spurts rather than gradual rises. Climate researchers refer to this style of rise as “meltwater pulses”, because the height of the ocean is linked to deglaciation and the melting of ice. Wanless thinks that we could be experiencing the largest meltwater pulse in human history, as tracked by the receding of the Greenland glacier, which had retreated inland a full eight miles in between 1900 to 2000, and then 9 more miles from 2001 to 2010.

NASA has also sounded the alarm over sea level rise. Just last week the agency released a statement that communicated Antarctic ice loss is ramping up. NASA says that sea levels are rising faster today than at any time over the past 25 years. NASA states that this is probably due to a recent uptick in ice loss. The amount of ice loss has tripled over the past 6 years, since 2012. Currently, about 241.4 billion tons of ice are being lost every year. NASA attributes this jump in ice loss to a combination of increased ice melt rates across Western Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as reduced ice sheet growth in East Antarctica.

Greenland’s glaciers are receding and chipping off into the ocean. Photo: NASA/LVIS TEAM.

If Florida wants to stave off as much damage as it can, scientists say that must act now. Hernandez Hammer explains that climate researchers chart various scenarios. Under the first scenario, the world manages to follow through with the tenets of the Paris climate agreement and manages to stave off much of the sea level rise, in which case almost 4.1 million people of the 4.7 million people living in Florida’s coastal communities may not have to deal with chronic flooding come the century’s end.

Preparing For The Future

“We were looking at 4.7 million people at risk and most of them would be spared,” explains Hernandez Hemmer. “…4.1 million people maybe not having to deal with chronic inundation, some degree of flooding.”

Hernandez Hammer explains that coastal communities will have to prepare for the inundation of water, which would likely involve reduced tax revenues on properties. Taxes will have to be used to fund emergency services and for new installations like sea walls and pumps. Rising sea levels are likely to have disproportionate effects on poor communities which lack as many resources to defend themselves from flooding. In contrast, the Miami Beach area has substantially more resources than smaller surrounding communities.

It isn’t just Florida that is at risk from rising sea levels. The UCS report also found that almost 250,00 homes in New Jersey and 143,00 homes in New York could be damaged by sea level rise. In total, the UCS report estimates $117.5 billion dollars worth of damage is likely to be done to homes over the course of the next thirty years. The UCS report says that the sea level rise could have “staggering economic impacts” that would ripple out to the rest of the nation. Homeowners are likely to see property values decline and damage to their homes continue to occur, leaving many with no option other than to abandon their homes and allow banks to foreclose their mortgages. Banks holding these mortgages on devalued properties would probably find their finances adversely affected.

The UCS urges immediate action to stem the rising tides. The UCS says that while “many of the challenges that the rising ocean will bring are inevitable”, we still have opportunities to limit the damage.