Miami, FL


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If you have not already read the futuristic scenario created by Jeff Goodell in his book “The Water Will Come”, and watched the short video (6:29) from The Atlantic “Is Miami Beach Doomed?”, please do so now so you have these two contrasting perspectives about Miami in your mind.

Is Miami Beach Doomed?
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SPEAKER 1: Flooding emergency along coastal cities today in South Florida as rising tides are leading to flooded streets. SPEAKER 2: Another night of tidal flooding on my-- SPEAKER 3: Florida reportedly has the most number of big cities at risk from rising sea level. SPEAKER 4: Scientific models predict most of Miami Beach could be under water by the end of the century. PHILIP LEVINE: I think that in every generation there's going to be a big cause. There's going to be a challenge or a war. I think today we have sea level rise and climate change. SPEAKER 5: 6th Street, 8th Street, and all the West Avenue spots. SPEAKER 6: Perfect. Perfect. It's important. We have to have these everywhere, because-- SPEAKER 5: I know. I'm on top of his head. SPEAKER 6: Good. SPEAKER 5: He can't breathe. SPEAKER 6: The more we communicate with the people, the better they understand what we're doing. SPEAKER 5: Yeah, I know. That's the whole point. SPEAKER 6: Because we are rising above. SPEAKER 5: Yes. SPEAKER 6: Thank you. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING] PHILIP LEVINE: So what was going on, and people were seeing it more and more, is we were having what's called sunny day flooding. Can you imagine? It's a beautiful sunny day on Miami Beach, which we have many of. And all of a sudden in certain streets, we would see water coming up through our drains. So the streets would actually become flooded, which is very unnerving to the residents and the tourists. It's been happening over a period of many years, but it seems over the last three, four, five, six, seven years, it's gotten worse, and it's gotten faster. We had areas where cars got under water a bit, where it went into the bottom of the cars and ruined cars. The big challenge we have is that in a city like Miami Beach, there are certain roads that are city roads, and there are certain roads that are state roads. So for example, one of the main roads in our city is A state road called Indian Creek Drive. And this road, underwater, underwater, underwater. But it's not our road. It's the state of Florida. And the difficulty we're having is convincing the governor and the Secretary of Transportation that they need to fix their road. But unfortunately, we have an administration in Tallahassee that doesn't believe in sea level rise. We can show them that there are fish on the street. Water's coming over, and this road, you can't even go it. We had to close it down. We were forced to take immediate action. And of course, I didn't realize that as a mayor your had to become a hydrologist, but we all kind of learned very quickly. And we have found that where we attack, we beat back the water. Historically, the way the water would leave our city, it would go down the drains, and it would go out our seawalls back into the bay. Because the water level has risen so high in the bay, the actual outfalls on the seawalls are under the water level. So what happens is the water reverses course and comes out our drains onto the street. So what did we do? Number one, we put on one-way flex valves. So now the water goes out, and when the flex valve closes, the water can't return in. The second thing is is that in order for that water to get out of that one-way flex valve back into the bay, we had to put in pumps. It's basically taking the water that's coming through our drainage system and pushing it out, opens up the flex valve, and the water goes back into the bay. Raising our roads, we're literally building on top of our existing roads and making our roads higher. If your roads are higher, they won't get flooded. A third thing, of course, is seawalls. If the bay gets too high, it won't go over the seawall. The seawall will protect the area. JIMMY MORALES: Our current plan is, how do we stay relatively dry for the next 30 to 50 years? The real long term issue now is, how do we create a sustainable community that includes our land use codes, our building codes and materials? Do we need to go to a landscaping plan that deals with more salt-tolerant species? How do we help individual property owners? How do they raise their houses? Or what's the alternative there? Is an insurance company going to ensure that home? Will rates go up? The early focus had been on the engineering solution. Now we got to figure out what's our strategy going forward. PHILIP LEVINE: We don't have all the answers. We have a lot of questions still, a lot of question. Really, what it comes down to, of course, is predictions. Do we know, really, the real predictions? You have someone say, five feet, then three feet, and two feet and six inches. And I think there's no necessary, really, true prediction. A lot of people say, well, you have pumps. You're raising streets. You're changing building codes. You're raising seawalls. That's only going to last 30, 40, 50 years. And I said, you know what? That may be true. But I believe in human innovation, and I believe in entrepreneurship I believe we're going to have such solutions through innovation in the next 20, 30 years that we're going to be astounded. I think we're going to able to shoot the water down, below way below the aquifer. I think that we're going to be able to pull water out of our city. We may need to potentially have little levies going through certain areas to carry water. I'm not sure. But I know that I believe in human innovation, and I know that Miami Beach is not going anywhere, as well as all the world coastal cities. JIMMY MORALES: When you look at this map, you realize most of South Florida is fairly aligned. So even though a lot of the talk is about Miami Beach, sea level rise is going to impact everything here along the coast. It's going to impact the Keys, and certainly, the Everglades, with its freshwater, brackish water in the ecosystem. There is no handbook. That's the real challenge we're facing. There is no handbook. No community has really done this. We're sort of at the front line of it, which is exciting and frightening at the same. PHILIP LEVINE: We showed that we can make progress. We showed that we have the formula. We know what to do. Now we're going to roll out this program citywide. It's a $400 million program. It's going to take another four or five years. Right now, we're shouldering the entire cost ourselves as a city. We really need state help. We need federal help. SPEAKER 7: Yeah, the flooding is a problem. But I think I think it will be good, because we need to cleanse this area. SPEAKER 8: Alton Road, it was just a flood every single day. And I've got a young daughter, and it's like-- I'd show her. And now she points out, look, the bridge is filled over with the tide. It's definitely frightening. JIMMY MORALES: If Miami Beach is going to be here 100 years from now, it probably won't look like this. The reality is we may have to learn to live with a little bit of water like they do in Venice, like they do in the Netherlands. We may have to do that as well in the long term. PHILIP LEVINE: I want to be the Mayor of Miami Beach. I don't want to be the Mayor of Venice. Whether it's Florida, whether it's the United States, pardon the expression, we're all in the same boat. Seas are rising. Climate change is a reality. And you can see it right here in Miami Beach, this wonderful, incredible city in Florida in the United States of America.
Credit: Video by The Atlantic

Even if they have never been to Miami Beach, most people know the city as a place where the wealthy go to enjoy the tropical climate and the beauty of the Atlantic shoreline. They may be completely unaware of the challenges that are connected to the geology of the area and rising seas. Jeff Goodell’s dystopic vision of the future for Miami is in contrast to the optimistic “can do” attitude of the mayor of Miami Beach and those around him, who have great faith in human ingenuity and engineering to find solutions to the coastal flooding issues, which are a growing part of daily life in Miami Beach. As you watch the video and read the article, ask questions about the future of Miami and Miami Beach.

How sustainable is the economic powerhouse of Miami Beach? What future lies ahead, and for how long can business as usual be maintained?

Let’s consider some of the reasons behind the sunny day flooding and king tides that are disrupting the utopic life there. First, of course, is sea level rise. We learned in Module 4 that parts of the east coast of the U.S. are suffering from greater rates of sea level rise than most places. And Miami is one of these locations. Research has shown that in addition to eustatic sea level rise, there is a combination of other factors contributing to sea level rise along the southeastern coast of the U.S.

Then, there are king tides, which occur seasonally, during the fall and early winter. King tides are a natural phenomenon determined by the predictable movements of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, but exacerbated by local weather patterns and regional ocean conditions. King tides occur when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are aligned at perigee (Moon is closest to the Earth) and perihelion (Earth is closes to the Sun).  These conditions result in the largest tidal range seen over the course of a year.

These factors, combined with a unique set of regional geological characteristics, make south Florida a highly sea level challenged part of the U.S.

What is unique about the geomorphology of this part of Florida that makes it more susceptible to sea level rise related issues? The Florida peninsula is composed of a limestone platform and the barrier shoreline that Miami beach occupies sits upon this platform. This makes it a little different geologically than the Outer Banks barrier islands, for example, which do not have a solid bedrock core, and continually migrate. The Florida peninsula is low in elevation and Miami beach has a maximum elevation of only a little over 1.5 m. The lowest elevations are on the bay side of Miami Beach. This is the area discussed in the video. You can explore the effects of sea level rise on Miami Beach at the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer, or the Citizen eyes site a citizen science site designed to increase flooding awareness among citizens, both of which allow you to search for a location and manipulate projected sea levels and visualize the effects on the chosen location.

In addition, the geology presents another challenge: the limestone platform is highly porous, so sea water can infiltrate beneath the ground and come up from below during high tides. Furthermore, the design of the older drainage systems that rely on gravity flow to the ocean has resulted in sea water backing up onto roadways during high tides. This adds to the effects of “sunny day flooding” which Miami is becoming accustomed to.

As the mayor of Miami beach describes in the video, the drainage systems are being redesigned with pumps to return the water to the ocean. This idea is illustrated well in the website.

Of course, the flooding experienced today in Miami is just the beginning, given the sea level rise projections we have already discussed. In the video, the mayor and city manager of Miami Beach both sound optimistic and are pushing forward with innovative ideas, such as installation of pumps, raising road levels, etc. But on the other hand, Jeff Goodell’s scenario paints a different picture of the future of Miami. These materials provide us with food for thought, which can be applied in the graded Module 6 Discussion Forum.

Miami flooding in the streets with cars driving through the water
Figure 6.14: Sunny day tidal flooding in Miami, FL.
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