MIAMI - It’s a sunny day in Miami, Florida with no chance of rain. But according to environmental scientist Margarita Kruyff, even on days like this, low-lying coastal communities like Miami and nearby Miami Beach may experience periodic flooding because of the porous bedrock underground that leaks water.
“On the roads it means water could be coming up our drainage systems,” said the City of Miami Beach environmental scientist, who explained that the annual seasonal King Tides, or very high tides, also take their toll.
“Water may be coming up over seawalls for our residents, causing flooding in their homes and back yards,” she said.
Rising seas linked to climate change are triggering chronic inland flooding in many parts of the world. In southern Florida, high tides are also threatening drinking water and causing soil erosion.
Scientific studies differ on how much farther the tides will rise there, but the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, or NOAA, projects the sea level could increase as much as two meters by 2100. The elevated sea levels eventually could put vast stretches of Florida under water.
“We’re trying to project how fast we’re expecting them to rise so we can plan how we’re going to protect our communities for the future,” said Kruyff.
To help control the damage from flooding, some roads and buildings have been elevated and seawalls are being reinforced.
Beyond man-made solutions, Mother Nature is lending a hand to hold back the tides.
Natural resources like restoring coral reefs and preserving mangrove forests can help with flood protection. Mangroves are trees that live in marshes or tidal shores and grow in salty water. Their roots form dense thickets that help prevent erosion and provide a natural buffer against storm surges.
Miami Beach’s Oleta River State Park is a kayaker’s paradise where a forest winds around a creek. As marine scientist Laura Geselbracht dipped her paddle into the water, she said, “Even though this area is surrounded by a lot of high development, the mangroves will help reduce flooding.”
Mangroves also combat the biggest driver of climate change, said the senior marine scientist who works for the Nature Conservancy in Florida.
“Mangroves sequester more carbon than any other trees on Earth because they have quite a large underground root structure. So, by storing carbon it takes it out of the atmosphere which can reduce our greenhouse gases in our atmosphere,” she said.
Florida's mangrove forests, however, are under threat, a problem that conservationists hope to reverse.
Geselbracht pointed out that “most of our mangroves have been eliminated for development. As sea level rises, some areas will no longer be habitable and maybe some homes and other structures will be removed,” she added.
Kruyff recalled when Miami Beach used to be a mangrove island, and said, “We recognize that bringing back mangroves is going to help us be better protected in the future.”
She has this advice for other places worldwide with rising seas.
“In areas that are undeveloped see how you can preserve nature, rather than trying to bring it in once you’ve developed those areas.”