One of the most likely places to see the effects of climate change is Miami, Florida (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2017). Miami, Florida is home to about 44,000 people and the greater Miami-Dade County has over 2.5 million residents (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d).
In 2022 Miami brought in around 11.1 billion dollars through more than 20 million tourists (Flechas, 2021). Situated on the northeast of the Florida peninsula an area that stretches 4,000 square miles with unusually shallow limestone that allows it to run into the ocean (Flavelle, 2018). The land provides beautiful beaches almost touching the impressive infrastructural city.
This webpage addresses the exposure associated with climate change in the city, the vulnerabilities of the area, hazards due to climate change and possible adaptions Miami can implement moving forward.
Miami is situated in a low-lying area that has a much higher exposure to high-tide conditions and storm surges (Climate Change: Global Sea Level, n.d.). Coastal flood is listed as at high risk (Pörtner et al., 2022). Miami is about 6.5 feet above the water and at some spots zero (NOAA). This makes it very vulnerable to sea level rise and prone to storm and tide flooding. (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2018).
Florida is one of the most hurricane-prone areas in the world (Moser & Franco, 2015). These storms cause damage and lead to more urban flooding, particularly in areas with poor drainage (Moser & Franco, 2015).
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of extreme heat, which due to climate change has increased in risk (WLRN, 2021). Temperature rise has been seen from storms causing mass power outages which limit cooling methods (WLRN, 2021). Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses increase dramatically without proper cooling, especially for those who are over the age of 65 and those who have underlying health conditions (WLRN, 2021). As the elderly usually need more assistance than the younger population, they will also need more medical first responders than a younger person. In addition, the ratio of elderly, 65 and up in Miami-Dade is expected to increase by 75 percent by 2040 (Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, 2017).
Miami has a disproportion of wealth and status, being the second highest income disparity in the nation (Florida, R., & Pedigo, S.,2019). Low-income communities are facing economic, health, and social burdens much harsher and more frequently than those who have better infrastructure, insurance, and employment (Miami-Dade County, 2021).
The entire Miami-Dade county is run on a set of water treatment plants, with fifteen wells set up as a last resort (Flavelle, 2018). Due to the unique environment of Miami as stated above, it is very easy to contaminate water aquifers (Flavelle, 2018).
Sea Level Rise:
The 2021 global mean sea level was the highest satellites have ever measured at 3.8 inches (IPCC, 2019). With only 6 feet above sea level in most places and lower in others, the tides and increased storms are beginning to flood the city and cause major impacts.
Why is the sea rising?
A combination of factors, including melting glaciers and ice sheets, thermal expansion of seawater as it warms, and the sinking of land due to natural geological processes (IPCC, 2019). Ice sheets and glaciers are melting due to the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere due to human activity (IPCC, 2019).
There is a high-risk factor of coastal erosion in the built environment (Pörtner et al., 2022). Miami is susceptible to erosion, leading to a reduction in inhabitable land. It is with high confidence that low-lying coastal areas are changing more rapidly and modifying the coastal lines so quickly that they are outpacing the effects of SRL (IPCC, 2019).
Coastal lines are home to ecosystems that provide barriers for both diverse species and protection for both them and us (Kareiva et al., 2011)
Floods and toxic algae blooms are becoming more common inland due to increased heat in Miami. This increases the concern from locals that the water is not being thoroughly filtered (Flavelle, 2018).
The water treatment plant is on a Superfund spot causing the locals to fear that the intense rains are forcing the toxic chemicals into the underground water that the plant uses to redistribute into the community (Flavelle, 2018). In 1986 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry identified benzene, arsenic, vinyl chloride and more chemicals that are dangerous for human consumption (EPA). Although there are many practices in place to clean and keep the water sources clean like air stripping, locals still worry (EPA).
As the ocean warms both fish and fishermen will need to move farther toward the poles which will affect the global seafood market (University of Miami, 2020). As boats need to travel farther distances to reach the fish the price of the fish will rise, causing access to fish to become more expensive and more exclusive (Montaigne, 2018).
Weather & Tides:
One study from 2006-2013 on weather events found a 66% increase in rain events and a 750% increase in tide events from the previous 8 year data (Scott et al., 2016).
The tide changes are related to the rise in sea level (IPCC, 2019). As of 2021, the sea level in Miami is approximately 9 inches (23 cm) higher than in 1880 (IPCC, 2019).
Adaption and Resilience
Climate Action Planning
The Miami-Dade county Climate Action Plan looks at continuing creating public-private relationships to further look into and build more environmentally friendly buildings, as well as campaign knowledge as to what is going on. They hope to:
- Reduce water and energy consumption through better efficiency , through public-private partnerships, campaigns
- Examine and study the economic scenarios of sea level increase and their vulnerability of facilities
- Continue a stormwater master plan
- Reduce emissions by effectively using fuel and increasing energy efficiency in buildings
Due to the large size of Miami-Dade the government is in a unique position to push for greener ideals and thinking moving forward as many of the rules and regulations that Miami sees the whole state does as well(Climate Change Action Plan, 2010).
Green building is architecture and design that operates using knowledge about energy, location, materials, and environment at its forefront. These buildings create less waste, and incorporate farm lands into most roofs (Planning for Hazards and Climate Change Impacts). Almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are from buildings (Planning for Hazards and Climate Change Impacts). Green buildings are found to contribute 50% less GHGs than a “normal” building.(Planning for Hazards and Climate Change Impacts). The Blue-Green Infrastructure group is proposing to use the streets as a stormwater transporter and move the water into greener areas in the city that can slow the flooding (Ramboll, 2019).
Mangroves can provide great protection on coasts from natural disasters and storms and erosion (Walters et.al 2011.). Mangroves act like a buffer for water and wind-lessing wind-waves that are a part of storm surge (Mcloveret. et. al.). Large mangrove areas can help reduce the amount of a flood especially in low lying areas (Spalding et. al. 2014). Local people of mangrove areas believe that they provide protection (Walters et. al.).
Mangroves act as a buffer for water and wind effects lessening waves caused by wind and run up which are a major part of storm surge and damage (Mclovor et.al.). A study found that the impact of hurricanes declined substantially by a width of 1 km of mangroves (Karp et.al.,2020).
About the Author
Hannah Kelly is from Ferrisburgh, Vermont. She is in the class of 2025 and an environmental studies and sociology major and minoring in art. She has never been to Miami and hopes to visit sometime. She chose this case study because of its relevance for many Americans and has a clear correlation of sea level rise effects on our built environment.
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