Florida's Projected Sea Level Rise by 2100 Is Bad News for Sunshine State

By 2100, Florida could see sea levels rise by up to 6 feet, with over 900,000 properties at risk of being underwater.

"By 2050, Florida sea levels, like much of the US, are headed for a 1-foot rise on average (above 2020 levels)," William Sweet, an Oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Newsweek. "By 2100, Florida is likely to experience at least 2 feet of rise (above 2020 levels) due to emissions to date, but that rise amount could be much higher if emissions and resulting ocean and atmospheric heating continues to increase. Up to 6 feet or so of rise by 2100 cannot be ruled out under a high emissions/heating scenario."

South Beach Miami
Photo of South Beach in Miami. By 2100, sea levels could rise up to 6 feet, putting 900,000 Florida homes at risk of being underwater. Getty

From these projections, the real estate company Zillow predicts that one in eight Florida properties could be underwater by 2100.

A report by the climate risk specialists, XDI, on February 20 found that, outside of China, Florida is the most at-risk state/province in the world for economic damage caused by climate change. This largely comes down to the state's geography: Florida has over 1,200 miles of coastline, and most of its 18 million residents live within 60 miles of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report by the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

"Sea Level Rise is the most critical [threat to the state]," Harold Wanless, a geography professor at the University of Miami, told Newsweek. "South Florida has already had over a 1-foot rise in the past century...and sea level is presently rising here at a rate of nearly 3 feet per century and accelerating.

"Peninsular Florida is also projected to have two more months of temperatures above 90 degrees by mid-century. Plus, major hurricanes are increasing in frequency. This latter, combined with sea level rise will make for significantly increased devastation by storm surges, wind and rain damage."

The effects of climate change are already being felt across the peninsula, and they are only expected to get worse. "With our sea level rise to date, low-lying coastal areas are increasingly frequently flooding by even the smaller king spring tides and minor wind surge events," Wanless said. "As a result, salt water in the streets is damaging vehicles, there is increased saltwater intrusion into our groundwater, inundated septic tanks are leaking out fecal pollution into the surface and ground waters, heavy rainfall drains away much more slowly, and ground floors and parking garages are prone to frequent flooding."

Flooded streets in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Photo of flooded streets in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after storm Eta in 2020 JillianCain/Getty

The economic implications of this will affect people throughout the state. "As we could well have a further 2 to 3 feet or sea level rise by mid-century, there will come a point where 30 years mortgages are not available, required flood insurance will be either not available or not affordable, and hurricane/flood risk will have dramatically increased," Wanless said.

Sweet said that understanding current and future flood risks is an important first step in helping people protect their families and their homes from the encroaching ocean. "Community responses thus far include building higher seawalls, elevating roadways and fortifying infrastructure like stormwater system functionality."

However, a true solution to this problem requires a global effort. "Reduced emissions with less ocean and atmospheric warming is the best solution to ensure less end-of-century sea level rise and flooding problems," Sweet said.

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