The Sea Level Around Florida Is Rising Six Times Faster Than Average


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Florida, as seen from space. NASA

It really is hard to overstate how screwed Florida is when it comes to climate change. Sea level rise has already ensured that floods are becoming common, not freak weather extremes; it’s guaranteeing that hurricanes and their associated storm surges are just getting that much more powerful.

Despite all this evidence, however, Governors and Senators who are often climate change deniers still get voted back into power there. As a result, instead of investing in climate change prevention measures, streets in Miami are literally getting raised up off the ground to stop floodwater coming in.


A new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that even this ludicrously short-sighted measure won’t be enough to stop the incoming tide. Sea level rise around the globe is accelerating year-on-year, but along the Floridian coastline, it’s rising up three to six times faster than average.

A team of researchers from the University of Florida took into account a wide range of factors when it came to determining why this was happening. After all, regional sea level rise changes are very complex, and no single mechanism is solely to blame.

When it comes to human influence, there are two inputs: the melting ice caps, and thermal expansion. The former is obvious – terrestrial ice that melts, falls into the sea and disintegrates causes the sea level to rise first in the region, and then globally.

The latter relates to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the more there is, the hotter the planet’s surface gets, and the hotter the oceans get. Warm water expands, and normally the only way to expand is upwards.


When it comes to natural cycles, sea level changes take place on short timescales normally because an oceanic current, one that shifts water from place to place, has changed. El Niño, the epic and all-encompassing climatic phenomenon that takes place every 2-7 years, can affect these oceanic currents.

This new study suggests that Florida’s sea level rise “hot spot” is being caused mostly by these natural factors. A recent, particularly powerful El Niño and a sudden weakening in the atmospheric pressure over the region - thanks to a feature known as the North Atlantic Oscillation - conspired to allow water levels to rise sharply.

“The superposition of these two ocean-atmospheric processes accounts for 87% of the variance in the spatiotemporal pattern of intradecadal sea level oscillations,” the team note – meaning that by far, natural processes are responsible for this unusual hot spot of sea level rise.

It cannot be ignored, though, that human contributions to climate change are only exacerbating this further. All in all, it’s bad news for Florida’s near-future, which is set to be underwater faster than anyone has previously estimated.


Another study revealed that, by 2100, there will be 2 billion climate refugees – and several million of them will be migrating from Florida to places further inland. If that’s not the future you want, it’s probably best to vote for lawmakers who’ll do something about it.

[H/T: Scientific American]

Update: Roll of North Atlantic Oscillation made more explicit.

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