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

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

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:

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.