“A scientifically credible and highly readable account of what is likely the greatest threat to Florida’s environment, economy, and culture over the coming decades.”–Reed F. Noss, author of Forgotten Grasslands of the South
“Every Floridian should read this book. It is the clearest and most readable description of how and why the sea level changes and what the future has in store for us.”–Orrin H. Pilkey, coauthor of Global Climate Change: A Primer
Sea levels are rising–globally and in Florida. Climatologists, geologists, oceanographers, and the overwhelming majority of the scientific community expect a continuation of this trend for centuries to come due to climate change, ocean warming, and ice mass loss.
While Florida’s natural history indicates that there is nothing new about the changing elevation of the sea, what is new is its accelerating pace. Also new–and alarming–is the ever-growing, immobile human infrastructure near the coasts: high-rise condos, suburban developments, tourist meccas, and international metropolises. In a state where much of the landscape is topographically low and underlain by permeable limestone, the stakes are particularly high. Modern-day sea level rise, with potential impacts to large land areas and populations, poses unprecedented challenges for sustainability, urban planning, and political action.
Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts, and Options offers an in-depth examination of the cycle of sea levels in the past and the science behind the current measurements and the future projections. The authors assess the most likely range of sea level rise in Florida based on a synthesis of projections for the next hundred years. They also discuss ongoing and potential consequences for natural marine and coastal systems and how we can begin to plan strategically for the inevitable changes.
Albert C. Hine, professor of geological oceanography in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida, is the author of A Geological History of Florida. Don P. Chambers is associate professor of physical oceanography in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. Tonya D. Clayton is the author of How to Read a Florida Gulf Coast Beach. Mark R. Hafen is assistant director and senior instructor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida. Gary T. Mitchum is associate dean for research for the College of Marine Science and professor of physical oceanography at the University of South Florida, as well as former director of the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center.
We interviewed author Albert C. Hine on the significance of sea level rise and how coastal cities and towns could be affected:
Sea level rise isn’t a new environmental issue. Why do you think now is the right time for this book?
The general public is largely unaware of this issue. If they are aware, they might not understand why sea level is projected to rise in the coming decades. Some, due to their political persuasion, refuse to believe it. Yet, a growing group of concerned, motivated, and learned citizens is educating its members. This growing number is trying to understand the science, the potential impacts, and our options for coping with this predicted phenomenon.
The book discusses sea level rise in Florida. How does what you cover apply to the rest of the world?
Since approximately 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the global coastline (http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/es/papers/Coastal_Zone_Pop_Method.pdf), sea level rise could affect roughly 4.4 billion humans by the year 2100. Historically, many if not most of the world’s largest cities were established near natural harbors, estuaries, and embayments for economic (trade, fisheries, energy) and military necessity. With time, richer countries developed their coastlines for tourism, real-estate opportunities, and other economic drivers. Many of these population concentrations are in very low-lying areas topographically. The predicted rise of sea level by 2100 and beyond would fundamentally change and even destroy this enormous and essential human infrastructure.
What changes have already been made to cope with the rising seas, and why isn’t it enough?
Countries such as The Netherlands have been challenged with living at or even below sea level for decades. Cities such as Venice are challenged as well. Both have built various types of engineering structures to cope. Small countries such as Kiribati, located on a coral atoll in the Pacific, have already decided to move, en mass, and have reached an agreement with the New Zealand government to relocate there once Kiribati submerges and becomes inhabitable. But, for the most part, few plans have been created to deal with sea level rise in topographically low areas due the overall lack of understanding in the U.S., particularly Florida. The issue simply has not attracted the widespread attention necessary, partially due to our tendency as a country—and as a species—to avoid multi-decadal planning and to instead think in much shorter time spans. We need to learn 50-100 year planning for issues like sea level rise and its effects on transportation, food, water, health, climate, living space, etc.
Do you believe our coastal cities and towns still have hope, or are the rising seas something we’re helpless to stop?
If the worst case predictions turn out to be true, there is little hope for mitigation and little hope for continued living close to the water’s edge.
What have been and what will be the most dramatic consequences of sea level rise in Florida?
Right now, we are beginning to see low neighborhoods routinely flooding at very high tides, which did not happen decades ago. We are seeing “nuisance rainfall,” which causes street flooding, because higher water levels prevent adequate runoff into street drains and culverts. Eventually, wholesale evacuation and abandonment of property and infrastructure over multiple decades will be unavoidable.
Is there a consequence of sea level rise that you believe most people don’t know about or fully appreciate the significance of?
The greatest consequence will be the rising cost of mortgages (or simply the unavailability of mortgages) and flood insurance, preventing people from selling their low-lying property. Banks will not provide mortgages for property that will be submerged within the lifetime of the mortgage. Coastal property values will fall and will no longer be the investment they once were. We have to realize that sea level rise can continue centuries beyond the year 2100, which is an arbitrary target. Finally, another great unknown is the instability of ice sheets possibly causing much more rapid pulses of sea level rise than we have currently predicted.
What is something we could do every day that would help alleviate this issue in some way?
The problems will be addressed be future generations—not ours. So, we need to include the science of climate change and all of its ramifications in school science curricula. The next generations will have to provide solutions. We will be long gone.
What actions do you hope readers take after learning the information covered in the book?
Keep learning more. You can never learn enough. Start to talk to local political leaders and other people in planning positions to see if they have a clue. Get climate science into the primary and secondary school curricula.