Miami's Newest Sea-Level Rise Signpost: The Vizcaya Museum

For decades, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the Coconut Grove estate built as a "dreamlike vision in the midst of the jungle on the shores of Biscayne Bay," according to the museum website, has been one of Miami's most iconic landmarks — a lush, leafy symbol of the wealth and extravagance that characterized much of the city's founding.

Now Vizcaya, as a University of Miami scientist has discovered, could become a symbol of another, more foreboding Miami phenomenon: the inevitable destruction and threat by creeping sea-level rise.

"It's probably one of the most striking places to see what's happening," Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at UM's Rosenstiel School, tells New Times. "It's such an iconic place." 

Earlier today on Tropical Atlantic Update, McNoldy's popular climate and weather blog, the scientist posted archival photos of the estate, taken around 100 years ago, when Vizcaya was built, alongside photos he took this past Wednesday, during a King Tide, showing the same angles. The images show the stunning effect of decades of sea-level rise: Several of the estate's features, built into Biscayne Bay, have since become submerged by rising water. 

Over the past couple of years, McNoldy says, he has noticed how high the water has been creeping up features of the museum, especially the barge built in Biscayne Bay. "During more and more of the high tides now, [the water] completely submerges the center part," he says.  "That's where you really see it." 

After tracking down several archival images, when this year's highest tide rolled around — the so-called King Tide — McNoldy decided to revisit the gardens and re-create the photos as best he could, he says, given his limitations. "There were a few of those that were shot from a boat." 

McNoldy acknowledges the photos he came up with don't show an "apples-to-apples" comparison because it's unclear at what point in the tide cycle the originals were taken. But the stark contrast, he argues, is nonetheless revealing: The original estate features, like the barge, would never have been built so that they submerge even during the highest tide of the year. 

More important, the water levels brought by this year's King Tide, McNoldy writes in his blog, also serve as a sobering predictor: This year's highest mark will "soon enough be the new average... Sea-level rise is happening and will continue to happen at even greater rates that we've ever measured."

Below are a few more of the photos:

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Trevor Bach