The Biscayne Times

Nov 15th
Sea Level Scenarios PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
November 2016

What happens when the next king tide stays?

CPix_GoingGreen_11-16limate change seems to get real for Miamians only during king tides. That’s when your street is flooded and you can’t get to your car or ride your bike through the mangrove forest at Matheson Hammock Park because the sea has risen to meet you knee-high. You’re up a creek without a paddle -- or a boat -- because the street is the creek.

But if you’re on Miami Beach -- where the streets have been raised with asphalt to avoid floodwaters, and mega-pumps siphon the saltwater out -- along with the dog crap, oil slicks, and Naled pesticide residue -- then you realize that this is not a hoax.

“Sea level is not the thing that worries me the most, but it is the ‘gateway drug’ to get people to talk about climate change,” says Caroline Lewis, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a Pinecrest-based climate change think tank and citizen education center. Lewis is speaking at a “Climate Change 101” class at the University of Miami, one of hundreds of community classes she’s held over the years to create a movement of climate activists (

Disease, famine, insects. “Pick your poison,” Lewis tells the students. “This Zika virus is just the beginning, my friends.”

The 2013 Rolling Stone story “Goodbye, Miami” chronicled our demise from climate change impacts, and gave us fair warning to leave while the real estate market was still hot. We decided, however, to stay, sipping mojitos under the construction cranes that twirl in the orange glow of evening skies.

A couple I know recently sold their home in Miami because they believe climate change is real and wanted to cash out. They’re enjoying Miami while it lasts in an oceanfront rental, watching the sea roll in and out with the tides and the sunsets. They’re on the year-to-year plan, they say.

Another long-term Miamian who works for a seaport enterprise takes a different view. She tells me that Port Miami and Port Everglades expansions were essential to accommodate the larger ships that will bring in goods for a growing population. The biggest population boom is expected after 2050, she says.

That date floats between us like a ghost of the future, one I associate with abandoned McMansions on Miami Beach and zombie condos on Brickell Avenue. Mid-century Miami is projected to exist with permanent nuisance flooding, I tell her. Who will still be here to consume the cargo-filled banana shipments or install Italian kitchens? She has no answer but remains confident that Miami will thrive.

These two scenarios for the future keep me in a constant state of confusion, wavering between despair and hope. And sometimes, I admit, denial.

In the lobby of the Cox Science Building at the University of Miami, where the “Climate Change 101” course is taking place, there’s a display of the 2008 Lidar maps created by the late Peter Harlem, an FIU geologist. The maps show what remains of South Florida’s land mass as the seas rise. At two feet of sea level rise, nearly one-third of the land mass in Miami has disappeared. The year is 2066. But it could happen much earlier, as there’s evidence of a feedback loop as melted freshwater pours into the world’s oceans, causing the rapid disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

A chunk of coral rock on display offers another lesson on how that will happen. I trace the rock’s deep grooves and crevices with my fingers and imagine them filled with the seawater that will percolate up from the ground to dissolve the thin bit of dirt we consider solid ground.

“We’re in an age of change and at a rate of change we don’t understand,” Lewis says.

For now, as long as the water recedes and vanishes back into the sea following king tides, we can pretend it never happened. But one day, the next high tide will stay. And you have to wonder, who’ll be staying with it?

Going Green at the Miami Book Fair: For more on the coming wave, catch author Albert C. Hine discussing his new book, Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts and Options at the Miami Book Fair, which takes place November 13-20 at Miami-Dade College Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. Hine is scheduled to speak at the session “Florida: The Natural World,” which also features Robert Silk’s An Ecotourist’s Guide to the Everglades and the Florida Keys and Cathy Salustri’s Backroads of Paradise: A Journey to Rediscover Old Florida, as well as Elaine Mills’s Gardens of Miami.

Also check out Michele Oka Doner’s “Into the Mysterium: A Photographic Journey Revealing Wondrous Marine Creatures We May Never See Again,” inspired by the University of Miami’s Marine Invertebrate Museum. Last but hardly least, ethologist Jonathan Balcombe discussing his bestselling book, What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins.


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