Florida is known for its sunny beaches, diverse wildlife, and vibrant culture. But what would happen to the Sunshine State if all the ice on Earth melted and sea levels rose dramatically? The answer is not very bright.
How Much Ice is There on Earth?
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, there are about 24 million cubic kilometers of ice on Earth, mostly in the polar regions and mountain glaciers. If all this ice melted, it would raise the global sea level by about 66 meters (216 feet)1. This would submerge many coastal areas and islands around the world, including most of Florida.
How Much of Florida Would Be Underwater?
Florida has the second-lowest elevation of the states, with an average of 30 meters (100 feet) above sea level. It also has the longest coastline in the continental United States, with more than 13,600 kilometers (8,400 miles) of shoreline. This makes Florida very vulnerable to sea level rise, especially since it is surrounded by water on three sides.
According to a web tool commissioned by Ocean Conservancy, if all the ice on Earth melted, Florida would lose about 90% of its land area, leaving only a few isolated islands and peninsulas. The map below shows the projected extent of Florida’s coastline in this scenario.
As you can see, most of Florida’s major cities, such as Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee, would be completely submerged. Only a few cities, such as Gainesville, Ocala, and Lake City, would remain above water, but they would be surrounded by a vast ocean. The Florida Keys, the Everglades, and the coral reefs would also disappear under the waves.
What Would Be the Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Florida?
The impacts of sea level rise on Florida would be devastating for its people, economy, and environment. According to a report by the Florida Climate Center, some of the potential impacts include:
1.) Displacement of millions of residents and tourists, leading to social and economic disruption and increased demand for housing, infrastructure, and services in inland areas.
2.) Loss of billions of dollars in property value, tax revenue, and tourism income, as well as increased costs for flood insurance, coastal protection, and disaster relief.
3.) Damage to critical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, airports, ports, power plants, water supply, and sewage systems, affecting transportation, communication, energy, and public health.
4.) Saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, reducing the availability and quality of drinking water and irrigation water for agriculture and urban use.
5.) Increased erosion, flooding, and storm surge, threatening coastal habitats, wildlife, and historical and cultural sites.
6.) Changes in salinity, temperature, and nutrient levels, affecting the biodiversity and productivity of marine and estuarine ecosystems, such as seagrasses, mangroves, and fisheries.
How Can We Prevent or Adapt to Sea Level Rise?
The best way to prevent or reduce the effects of sea level rise is to limit the global warming that causes the ice to melt in the first place. This requires reducing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agriculture, and enhancing the natural sinks that absorb carbon dioxide, such as forests, wetlands, and oceans.
The Paris Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015, aims to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C (2.7°F), by the end of this century. However, achieving this goal will require unprecedented cooperation and action from governments, businesses, and individuals around the world.
In addition to mitigation, adaptation is also necessary to cope with the inevitable impacts of sea level rise that are already occurring or projected to occur in the near future. Adaptation strategies can include:
1.) Planning and zoning for coastal development, taking into account the current and future risks of sea level rise and incorporating design standards and building codes that enhance resilience and reduce vulnerability.
2.) Implementing nature-based solutions, such as restoring and protecting coastal ecosystems that provide natural buffers against flooding and erosion, such as dunes, marshes, and oyster reefs, and that support biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, water purification, and fish production.
3.) Investing in engineered solutions, such as seawalls, levees, pumps, and gates, that can prevent or reduce the damage from coastal flooding and storm surge, but that may also have negative environmental and social impacts, such as habitat loss, reduced public access, and increased maintenance costs.
4.) Relocating or elevating structures and infrastructure that are at high risk of inundation or damage, or abandoning them if they are no longer viable or safe, and providing compensation and assistance for the affected owners and residents.
5.) Enhancing monitoring, modeling, and forecasting of sea level rise and its impacts, and improving the communication and dissemination of information and warnings to the public and decision-makers, to increase awareness and preparedness and to reduce uncertainty and risk.
Sea level rise is one of the most serious consequences of climate change, and Florida is one of the most vulnerable states in the United States. If all the ice on Earth melted, Florida would be almost entirely underwater, with devastating impacts on its people, economy, and environment. To avoid this worst-case scenario, we need to act urgently and collectively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the current and future effects of sea level rise. Florida’s future depends on our choices and actions today.