Silently Drowning

For the Rocketeer by Andy Van Ornum
As the yearly hurricane season ravishes the southern United States, this is a common but widely heard about situation. Lots of preparation goes into the drowning effects that come with such powerful storm, as the country is witnessing right now in the Houston, Texas area being hit by Hurricane Harvey. Harvey was a category 4 hurricane that has dumped 50 plus inches on parts of southern Texas; this develops an idea of how crippling water can be to our modern livelihoods. As the United States fearfully watch Texas there is a silent, yet more powerful force that is slowly consuming another area of the country.. Miami, Florida, the 8th largest metropolitan area in the United States, is seeing something unfamiliar to many; rising sea levels. Rising sea levels are something that is talked about, but the true effects are unknown due to the lack of firsthand experience. A popular suburb of Miami, Miami Beach -well known for its beautiful beaches and warm waters- is a highly visited tourist attraction. This utopia is built on a partial man-made island with an elevation around four feet above sea level. Miami Beach is not connected to mainland Florida; it hovers a couple hundred feet away from downtown Miami with the Atlantic Ocean to its east and Biscayne Bay to the west. The city spans the length of the Miami metropolitan area, around 15 square miles. With 87,789 citizens living on the island you can grasp how inhabited this island really is. All along the eastern front are sky rises averaging twenty stories tall. It’s a fully functioning city sitting eye level with the strongest force on our planet. The issue of sea level rise was not even a thought in the mid-1980s, when it would take several inches of hurricane force rains to submerge the city. Today, it can happen with a high tide on a full moon. This brings up the question, what does the future hold for this huge metropolitan area? Miami Beach is the second city most affected by rising sea levels in the world. This may seem puzzling as the string of islands known as the Florida Keys stretching far into the Gulf of Mexico are not affected by this issue at all. The warm water from the shallow Gulf is crucial part of the ocean current that shoots hot water through the narrow 90 mile strip in-between Cuba and the Florida Keys, this warm water travels across the Atlantic to Europe as a vital part of the Atlantics Ocean currents. The fast moving current of the Gulf Stream protects the keys from all this carnage, but the Miami area is a different story. A neighbor, quite far from Florida, is impacting the situation more than any other- Greenland. The dramatic rate that the glaciers and polar ice caps are melting is shooting fresh water into the Northern Atlantic. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so even though the water may be cold, it sits right where the warm salt water current from the Gulf Stream passes through. This is creating a change in the ocean’s currents; this issue may be small to the eye but it affects places like Miami Beach indirectly. As currents shift far away from southern Florida, individuals living on this 15 square mile island are starting to notice changes throughout the city. At high tide on a full moon, the streets of Miami Beach become rivers with currents; it’s a strange sight. The storm drains and sewers start to boil over, then, in the blink of an eye ocean front streets are all under a foot of water. The scary thing is that this is happening at a more normal rate, forcing the mayor of Miami Beach and large property owners along the famous ocean front property to sink millions in pump systems and other crafty ways of diverting being completely overtaken by the Atlantic Ocean. Philp Levine, the acting mayor of Miami Beach since 2013 has taken serious action over the past few years to protect the long term safety of the Miami Beach area. “We have this thing called sunny day flooding, picture on a beautiful sunny day all of a sudden you see water coming up on the street,” this is an interesting concept to think about considering what is at stake here. Millions of dollars’ worth of property is on the verge of sinking into the ocean. The prevention for sea level rise has been seen throughout the city, street view diners are now blocked with a 5 foot wall, which the street is now sitting on and electric pumps divert water from lower flood plain areas back to Biscayne Bay. The even more daunting realization out of this is that these elaborate and expensive systems being created will only buy time for 40 to 50 years. “People ask me well mayor, what we are going to do after 50 years? What we need to do is start coming up with solutions, which is going to be hard,” said Mayor Levine. With all this new information in mind the question is raised on why has this not been brought to public attention through media coverage? This is a national crisis that is being swept under the rug, even by citizens living on the island itself. “Oh, my God! My garage is flooded! I need to get my rain boots,” Valerie Navarrete, a 25-year resident of Miami Beach, yelled into the phone, as she hurried to the downstairs parking garage of her Lincoln Road building. “I already lost a car to flooding here six or seven years ago,” Navarrete said. “Now, the garage is already up to three inches of water.” This was one of many calls made to emergency services on August 1st, 2017 when an afternoon thunderstorm, combined with high tide seemed consume the city with little or no warning. Drastic weather patterns hit all over the United States, so flooding is something that most individuals will experience in their lifetime. Florida though is on one of the softest foundations for a landmass in the world; the southern part of the state is already a swamp that is controlled by levees and canals zig zagging from coast to coast. The state’s population has exceeded so, where will this put Florida when it comes to sea level rise? The question is laid out clearly for all to see, yet somehow Miami Beach is silently drowning.