In the past few decades, it’s become clear that something is happening along the sunny coasts of Florida. Water from regular flooding, high tides, hurricanes, and tropical storms ends up in places where it didn’t just a few years earlier.
It has some folks asking, “is Florida sinking?”
Let’s explore this local problem and its global origins.
Why Are Scientists Warning That Florida Is Sinking?
To say Florida is “sinking” isn’t exactly accurate. Really the ocean is rising around it. Across the globe, sea levels are rising, but Florida is uniquely vulnerable in the United States for several reasons.
The primary reason is that it’s a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides that provide thousands of miles of coastline. It’s also among the lowest elevation states, putting significant portions of the population at risk from even mild sea rise.
As a side note, some parts of Florida are actually sinking. The state is known for its subsidence. This is due to the unstable materials in the top layer of ground, underground erosion, and overuse of groundwater.
This process created many of central Florida’s lakes and the sometimes-terrifying sinkholes.
What Is Causing Sea Levels to Rise?
As global temperatures have risen over the past century, more water, previously locked in the world’s ice caps, is melting into the oceans.
With the volume of the world’s liquid water steadily growing, there’s simply nowhere for the water to go but to creep further inland.
While sea level rise impacts all of the world’s coastlines, certain areas like Florida are uniquely vulnerable.
When Do Scientists Think Florida’s Coastline Will Be Visibly Affected?
In some places, Florida’s coastline is already feeling the effects of sea level rise. Previously high and dry neighborhoods experience more flooding now. And some coastal areas have begun to erode at alarming rates, requiring constant beach maintenance.
Estimates for future sea level rise vary. Some estimates put significant impacts a hundred or more years away. But others suggest notable changes in the next few decades.
However, scientists have difficulty predicting the precise rate of sea level rise, along with other factors that may influence how fast and where the effects will occur.
What Will Rising Sea Levels Mean for Florida Residents?
Floridians will experience different impacts from sea level rise, depending on where they live within the Sunshine State. Areas along the coast or offshore barrier islands will be the most immediately and severely impacted.
Erosion in areas previously untouched by water will slowly and steadily cause damage. At the same time, persistently higher water levels will expose communities to more damage during extreme weather events.
However, all Florida residents will feel the effects of sea level rise in some ways. The state already has some of the nation’s highest insurance rates. And many expect that rising seas will only worsen the crisis for all homeowners, no matter where they live in the state.
Additionally, rising sea levels could threaten Florida’s tourist economy over time. This industry is one of the primary economic engines that support tens of thousands of jobs.
How Can Hurricanes Predict Where Water Levels Will Rise?
When hurricanes strike a coastal area, they often bring a far more dangerous threat than wind — storm surge. The sheer force of the storm pushes enormous amounts of water out of the ocean, bays, or rivers, sending it overflowing into communities.
Like all flooding, water flows to the path of least resistance, avoiding hills and inclines and seeking out low-lying areas. This means areas that see the worst hurricane storm surge will likely also see the first impacts of sea level rise. Instead of a surge, they’ll see a slow but steady influx of water.
What Can We Do to Prevent Florida From Sinking?
The most critical thing that can prevent Florida from sinking due to sea level rise is also the most difficult. We must prevent future increases in global temperatures.
Climate scientists consistently show the need to cut carbon emissions in the atmosphere to slow global warming. However, we’ve seen little political will to rein in the world’s largest emitters.
Even so, we may have already caused significant and irreversible damage. Altering the rise of global sea levels is slow and difficult. But Floridians can also take steps to limit their exposure to the impacts of climate change.
This could include changing zoning to alter the location and style of homes and businesses or additional building code protections to ensure homes survive stronger storms and more routine flooding.
Is Florida Sinking?
Whether you say the sea level is rising or Florida is sinking, the result is the same. The Sunshine State has a unique vulnerability in the earliest stages of the global climate crisis.
This low-lying state packs millions of residents along its fragile coasts, making the issue even more urgent.
Whether by supporting global efforts to reduce the melting of the ice caps or local work to secure the state against rising seas, action is needed to keep Florida thriving.
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