Seas Could Rise Ten Feet in Next 50 Years, Famed Climate Scientist Warns

The latest doom-and-gloom climate change prediction has arrived this week — and it’s a doozy. The study, written by alarmist (yet reputable and regularly correct) climate change scientist James Hansen predicts sea levels will rise ten feet in the next 50 years.

That seems like a lot, especially when many of the 2.4 million people in Miami-Dade County live less than four feet above sea level. So New Times spoke with Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, to put the latest report into perspective for anyone who dwells on low-lying land.

“Basically, it would mean big trouble,” McNoldy says. “It would absolutely be a big deal for us.”

But that’s putting it simply. He explains that the current scientific consensus estimates sea level to rise between two and four feet by 2100. The upper estimates predict six feet. Keeping Miami above ground if those estimates are accurate will be an expensive and Herculean feat.

“So ten feet in 50 years is outrageously above and beyond anything else,” he explains.

There is an important caveat, though. The latest study from Hansen — a former NASA scientist who's now a Columbia University professor — is published this week in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion, a non-peer-reviewed website. That's troubling to any scientist, McNoldy says.  

“I would say the headlines that are coming out of this are premature; 99.9 percent of papers don’t see the light of day until they’re peer-reviewed,” McNoldy points out. “I would take this with several grains of salt.”

Still, if Hansen is right — and a number of other experts who reviewed the work for the Washington Post yesterday say his conclusions are worth discussing — Miami and Miami Beach, in particular, are in big trouble. 

In Miami Beach, $300 million anti-flooding pumps are being installed. That engineering should keep Miami Beach above water for the next 30 years, assuming sea levels rise one to two feet as currently predicted. “So to have ten feet in 50 years, you almost can’t plan for that. There’s not much you can do,” McNoldy says.

Other South Florida scientists suggest a mass exodus or forced migration. Even if the city built a massive waterproof wall, Miami would still go under. Because Miami sits on porous limestone, the water would creep in from below. “So there’s nothing we could do,” McNoldy says.
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson