A team of researchers in the Keys, led by Bergh, gathered high-resolution elevation data for Big Pine Key and the best elevation data available for the remaining Keys. They then combined this information with the various sea-level rise projections created by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others to determine how much or how little room there may be for adaptation to rising seas.
The findings were unexpected: even the most conservative projection of a seven-inch rise in sea level by 2100 will result in significant changes in plant and animal habitats.
A more thorough analysis of the data, undertaken by Florida International University, reveals that the land at risk of flooding from a five-foot increase in sea level has a property worth nearly $27 billion, affecting 56,000 people and 76,000 acres.
Bergh references several studies, including the tidal gauge at Key West, which has one of the longest-running records of its sort in the United States.
Then there is the “2022 Sea-Level Rise Technical Report” from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which states that “Sea level along the U.S. coastline is projected to rise, on average, 10 – 12 inches (0.25 – 0.30 metres) in the next 30 years (2020 – 2050), which will be as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years (1920 – 2020).”
What can be done about this challenging situation right now?
TNC places a lot of emphasis on using “green infrastructure” to reduce erosion and flooding.
According to Bergh, “coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and marshes help preserve the islands and our towns at a fraction of the cost of seawalls, breakwaters, and engineered stormwater management systems with extra benefits for fishing, diving, and our tourism sector in general.” “We need to acknowledge the worth of these natural features and keep protecting and restoring them, and in certain circumstances, even start actively producing them, so they can support us.”
With the aid of this new tool, people will be better able to comprehend the individual and cumulative effects of sea level rise and storm surge in the Keys by viewing it on a map.
TNC used the most refined available elevation data and other exciting factors like protected species ranges, infrastructure sites, and vital facilities like hospitals for the coastalresilience.org future scenarios mapper. Users can replicate a simulated surge from a hurricane like Hurricane Wilma, a rise in sea level of one to four feet, or a mix of the hill and surge. The tool can be utilized to create workable plans.
“We can proceed from the outstanding overall plans created to date into the specifics and determine exactly which road segments or which area of Key deer habitat requires assistance, how much that assistance will cost, and how we are going to pay for it,” adds Bergh.
Time to make a move truck call?
Bergh, who resides on Big Pine Key with his family, responds, “Well, not reasonably. “Hope, not fear, is the focus of these investigations. Experience has demonstrated that we can recover from hurricanes with careful preparation, qualified emergency managers, proactive elected officials, and knowledgeable citizens who know what to do and when to do it to stay safe and recover swiftly.
The goal is to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and motivate people to take action. At the same time, there is still time, and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation to limit the amount of sea-level rise. Additionally, it is essential to create and implement local plans to aid in the resistance and adaptation of nature and people to sea-level heights.