Miami could know as early as 2020 how high sea levels will rise into the next century, according to a team of international researchers including FIU Earth and Environment Professor Rene Price.
Sea level rise is one of the most certain consequences of climate change. But the speed and long-term height of the rise is one of the great scientific unknowns. Some scientists believe sea level rise is accelerating, some suggest the rate is holding steady, while others are saying it’s actually decelerating.
Recently, Price was working with oceanographer Ivan D. Haigh in Western Australia. With long-term data showing that global sea levels are steadily rising at approximately 0.1 inch per year and climate models indicating that the rate could accelerate over time, Price posed a question to Haigh — How soon will Miami residents know what the sea levels will be in the year 2100?
Price, Haigh and the team of international researchers set out to answer Price’s question. The team analyzed data from 10 sea level monitoring stations throughout the world. Using a scientific crystal ball approach, they looked into the future by analyzing the past. The researchers examined historical data to identify the timings at which accelerations might first be recognized in a significant manner, and extended projections through 2100. The findings were published today in Nature Communications.
Price said the information provided in their paper should give comfort to those living with this uncertainty.
“Our results show that by 2020 to 2030, we could have some statistical certainty of what the sea level rise situation will look like,” Price said. “That means we’ll know what to expect and have 70 years to plan. In a subject that has so much uncertainty, this gives us the gift of long-term planning.”
Conservative projections suggest sea levels could rise by almost a foot by 2100, but with acceleration, some scientists believe that number will be closer to 3 feet.
“This means areas of Miami Beach could experience constant flooding. If sea level rise accelerates, the Everglades and mangroves may not be able to keep up,” Price said. “Mangroves are very important to South Florida and their loss would likely mean more land erosion. We could see large portions of the Everglades taken over by the ocean. Areas that are freshwater today could become saltwater by 2100.”
As cities, including Miami, continue to plan for long-term solutions to sea level rise, Price said she was surprised to discover that in the span of 20 years, scientists should be in a position to predict the long-term situation for Miami and other coastal areas across the planet.
As for next steps, Price said scientists must continue to crunch the numbers every decade, creating certainty for long-term planning and helping to develop solutions for a changing planet.