Swallowing Miami – The Risk of Rising Sea Level

by James McClister


If projections from monitoring entities are to be believed, then it’s entirely possible that Miami Beach will be completely underwater by 2100, with much of the mainland slipping into the sea right behind it. At the very least, flooding will become a much more pressing problem than it already is, and the result will likely be hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage and loss – among other problems, like lost jobs and displaced families.

The Rise

The City of Miami and its immediate neighbors (namely Miami Beach) are anticipating a rise in sea level.

Susanne Torriente, chief resiliency officer for Miami Beach, said the City is taking “ aggressive steps” to reduce risks to current flooding and future sea level rise. The City is basing its strategies on projections put together by the Southeast Florida Regional Compact, which reported its findings in three tiers:

  • Short term (by 2030) – Sea level rise is projected to be 6 to 10 inches.
  • Medium term (by 2060) – Rise is projected to be 14 to 26 inches, with a less likely possibility of 34 inches.
  • Long term (by 2100) – Rise is projected to be 31 to 61 inches, with a less likely possibility of 81 inches.

Most organizations agree with the Compact’s projection. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts sea levels could rise by upwards of three feet by 2100, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects as much as a five-foot rise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claims the increase in sea level could be as much as six and a half feet.

In an interview with the New Yorker, University of Miami Professor and Geological-Sciences Department Chair Hal Wanless warned that those projections are “probably low.”

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he said.

As the map below indicates, even at the five-foot level Miami Beach is essentially sunk (and about 50,000 people are affected – if population size and distribution stay the same – according to Climate Central). At the 10-foot range, which is on the lower end of Wanless’ expanded projections, nearly all of South Florida would be under water…and the damage would be incalculable.

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  • Piper Rothan says:

    Thank you for this article. National Geographic just completed filming the “Future of Miami.” Its part of the “Years of Living Dangerously” series about climate change. Not sure when it will air. I imagine it will continue the every growing mind share about the severity of Miami’s future.

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