The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, with 5.6 million people, is “ground zero” in the battle against the rising seas. Perhaps nowhere else in America are the odds lined up so heavily against a region. With a relatively flat, low-lying landscape, and a porous limestone base that precludes levees, the options for this city do not look good.
A thousand miles north-east lies New York — another city very vulnerable to sea level rise. But after the wake-up call of Superstorm Sandy, Michael Bloomberg, then the mayor of New York City announced “We cannot, and will not, abandon our waterfront” and launched a $20 billion program to protect the city against the rising seas — at least for a little while. So why can’t Miami apply the same formula as New York City, and go back to relaxing on the beach? And what is this concern about sea level rise in the first place?
Most of us have heard of climate change or global warming, but what we may not realize is that about 90 percent of the heat being trapped by increasing greenhouse gases is going into the oceans, not the air. And as the oceans become warmer they expand — causing the sea level to rise.
Sea level for most of the 20th century rose at the rate of about 6 inches per century. In recent years this rate has approximately doubled to a rate of just over 12 inches per century. Scientists predict that the pace will increase even more as the large ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland begin shedding more ice to the ocean. Just how fast sea level will rise over the coming decades is undetermined at this point, but scientists agree on two points: the direction is up and the pace will increase.
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