Sea Level Rise is one of the effects of climate change. It is a result of two different factors; an increase in water volume that is added by melting ice lands and the thermal expansion of sea water as it warms up.
Miami Beach and its challenges with sea level rise are a common theme in global conversations regarding climate change. Miami Beach has an average elevation of 4.4 feet NAVD. The city’s low lying coastal city is facing and will continue to face not only sea level rise, but also other impacts from climate change. Our geographic location and low-lying topography make us inherently vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, and other climate change impacts.
In recent years, Miami Beach had observed an increased frequency of urban flooding caused by higher high tides, elevated groundwater levels, and oversaturated soils. According to the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the king tides this October are anticipated to be 3 feet above mean high water. Storm surge is also a challenge because it raises the waters surrounding Miami Beach above average levels, results in flooding, and causes damage to upland properties and infrastructure. This is effect is particularly evident is sections to the west side of the city which have a lower elevation (Approximately 2.4 feet).
Additionally, hurricanes and strong storms also provide a great challenge to our low lying city. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Miami Beach experienced waves as high as 10 feet. This event caused significant flooding and beach erosion throughout our city.
The City of Miami Beach is working diligently to convert these challenges into opportunities, starting with adaptation initiatives such as the installation of pump stations, rising of roads, and other innovative drainage improvements that are informed by the latest scientific data.
In early 2020, the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact reunited their Sea Level Rise Workgroup to release their 2019 Unified Sea Level Rise projections with updated data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The 2019 projection estimates an overall increase from the earlier projections released in 2015. Increase in sea level is estimated to be approximately 10 to 17 inches by 2030, 21 to 54 inches by 2070, and 40 to 136 inches by 2120.
These projections are based on current greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and can only be improved the amount of emissions released into the environment are reduced. A couple of options include driving less, buying energy efficient products, recycling or reusing household waste, and even by planting trees. Remember that you’re not alone. The City of Miami Beach is also taking steps in reducing GHGs within government operations and within our community. For example, the city is currently conducting a GHG Inventory. The gathering of this data will be extremely helpful to understand the areas that should be addressed to reduce emissions in the short and long-run.
Miami Beach also requires new construction to achieve LEED Gold certification or Living Building Challenge certification for new construction over 7,000 square feet. Additionally, the City Commission adopted an ordinance to install electric vehicle charging stations in city lots and garages to make it easier to own and drive electric vehicles.
It is also important that residents and business owners familiarize themselves with land development regulations to understand how the city’s efforts to improve its infrastructure may have an impact on their business or residence.
The Miami Beach approach to sea level rise is multi-faceted. In addition to implementing public projects, the city is looking at policy changes that will spur adaptation on private property. City staff has worked closely with local developers and experts to review existing planning and zoning codes and to make adjustments as needed. Most recently, the City Commission is looking at raising base flood elevations for new construction and major reconstruction. Additionally, Public Works is evaluating strategies to raise the protective barriers along the city’s coasts. These code changes are anticipated to help the city slowly raise its built environment to a more resilient height.
The city is also looking to restore habitat and incorporate natural solutions. In 2014, the city completed a dune restoration enhancement project along the eastern portion of the city. The healthier and more robust dune system not only provides habitat for native species, but also provides critical storm surge and erosion control protection to the upland infrastructure. Other green infrastructure currently in consideration includes creating living shorelines, increasing the city’s tree canopy, and restoring greenspace where appropriate.