• SustainabilityX®

Miami’s Going Down — Into The Ocean

Gone will be the days of Chris Brown raving over the doomed coastal city’s hotness, 2020’s host of the NFL’s annual championship

Sustainability, Miami, SuperBowl, Climate Crisis, Coastal Cities, Flooding, The SustainabilityX® Magazine

Photo by Ashley Satanosky on Unsplash

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Over the years, watching the Super Bowl, whether in-person or from home, has turned into a family tradition. 2020’s Super Bowl will be held at Hard Rock Stadium that is minutes away from Miami Beach.


But Miami Beach is sinking into the ocean. Thanks to its “king tides” and climate change combined.


According to WIRED, Miami’s king tides peak around October, flooding the city streets and office buildings, then subside around November with a slight comeback in March. Since the Super Bowl is scheduled in January, visitors won’t have to worry about having to wade through water in their hotel rooms.


Although Miami has long been accustomed to its king tides, the city is not accustomed to the compounded effects of king tides and rising seas as a result of climate change.


Melting glaciers thousands of miles away have led to a sea-level rise of 5 inches in the last 25 years in South Florida, with many more inches to come. Simultaneously, the warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, resulting in more rainfall. Additionally, hurricane season starts in early summer and lasts through the autumn. When a hurricane strikes the city in such aggravated oceanic and environmental conditions, the consequences will inevitably be disastrous. The City of Miami is on the brink of an existential crisis.


Simply put, an extremely high tide (i.e. king tide), with increased sea level, increased rainfall, and a hurricane on top is a venomous cocktail that spells nothing but doom for Miami.

Although Miami is desperate to fight the circumstances, it has old-century policies in its arsenal — outdated flood control systems that rely on gravity (which render useless in sea-level flooding) and a bunch of canals that route rainwater to the sea — all without accounting for the rise of sea level.


Given its popularity year-round for both sports and concerts, Hard Rock Stadium will be the worst hit since it sits directly on one of the canals and contributes to much of Miami’s economy while sea level rise show no sign of stopping.


Scientists predict Florida could see a 2–4 ft rise in sea level by midcentury (i.e. 2050) and a 3–6ft rise in 50 years from now (i.e. 2070). It could be even higher than that.


But that’s not all.


Disaster looms below the surface of Miami. The rising seas cause Miami’s porous limestone base to be per-waterlogged leading to flooding in the event of rainfall. Instead of being able to escape via the limestone base, that area is already taken up by ocean water, resulting in stagnant water on the surface, home to breeding grounds for infectious diseases, unwanted pests, and harmful pathogens.


“With the water comes more vector-borne diseases,” says Cheryl Holder of Florida International University, and co-chair of the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. “So we already had dengue and Zika, and we expect more of this happening if we continue with stagnant water, sea-level rise, and more extreme weather.”


Given that Miami’s Super Bowl is being held in January, there’s a relatively low risk of contracting these deadly diseases as a result of cold weather. But there’s no guarantee after the cold weather subsides. Dengue leads to death via internal bleeding while Zika leads to neurologically and developmentally harmful life-changing birth defects. Not what any NFL fan is looking forward to, or rather, any human being in this case.


On top of that, even more trouble brews below Miami’s surface. More ocean water underground due to rising sea levels leads to sewage system infiltration. “Septic wastes may be discharged around the surface and people are trudging through them. And maybe some of it’s even getting into their homes under really more dramatic flooding conditions,” says Michael Sukop, a hydrogeologist at Florida International University. “That definitely could be an issue from a public health perspective.”


Also, as the sea levels go up, ocean saltwater ruins freshwater aquifers. Experts suggest Miami will have to desalinate all of its water as soon as sea levels rise by 2 ft — regardless of the neighbouring Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, a natural region of tropical wetlands.


Although sports fans can get away safe from 2020’s Super Bowl in this drowning city, the next few years are extremely crucial for Miami’s existence. As engineers battle the threats of rising tides, meaner storms, and aged canal infrastructure, the city faces funding problems in operating and maintaining existing and planned retrofitted canal water pumps, which are significantly costly.


Another option engineers tinker with are sea walls, but there’s no guarantee that Miami will never flood again. The Dikes of the Netherlands are not going to work.


Climate change has already begun to “disproportionately imperil the most vulnerable among us”, particularly those who can’t afford to protect themselves from it. Think small-island Fiji’s Prime Minister presiding over negotiations at COP23 in 2017. Although Miami Beach could potentially afford to hold back the tide, sea walls and similar barriers ignite the issue of inequality between relatively rich developed nations and poor small-island nations. But with saltwater infiltrating sewer systems and vicious hurricanes characterized by extreme weather, Miami has a lot more to worry about even if it somehow combats the sea level rise. Hurricanes don’t bother asking sea walls permissions to enter and destroy cities. And insurance premiums are climbing up the wall, particularly in high-risk areas, like Miami, which only the rich can afford. Inequality bells go off again.


Then there’s the last option — to back off, or simply, retreat, and surrender to the sea. For example, San Francisco is surrendering part of a coastal highway to the ocean, intending to use an expanded beach as natural protection against the rising sea levels.

Miami Beach’s water management and urban planning officials have gotten creative, proposing ideas of transforming existing golf courses into water-absorbing wetlands. But when the Everglades can’t help, there’s no chance these golf courses can either. The debate over which parts of the built infrastructure are to be kept are generational issues that need solutions implemented to see fruitful results decades from now.


If the Super Bowl is ever planned to be held in Miami again, say a few decades from now, organizers will first have to consider whether Miami even exists or not. Other coastal cities around the world, like Jakarta, are already sinking rapidly into the ocean as we speak. Climate action is the only way out — that is, if action is taken in time. Coastal cities and destinations are being engulfed by rising sea levels creeping up to dry land and swallowing them in near, if not all, entirety, getting wiped out, changing the world map forever.