Layers: Florida Coastline, Daytona Beach

LAYERSFloridaCoastdetail1inprogMost of the time the ocean waves lap the shorelines of Florida with a gentle regular rhythm.  This is the nation’s vacationland. Children run and squeal with delight as the water rushes up the sand and engulfs their tiny feet.  People collect shells or surf cast for fish. Elderly men play metal detectors over the rippled surface hoping to find the results of someone’s misfortune. Further out, where the surf is larger, tanned, muscular people body surf as the waves curl and break.  Sailboats glide and powerboats roar. Spring Break, Bike Week, dozens of other events celebrate the sand and surf.  In stormier times the crash and roar of the waves creates a more exciting din.  Swimming and wading are curtailed by the warning flags at the lifeguard stations.   In times of hurricanes and the occasional winter Nor’easter storm the coastal landscape is rearranged.  Storm lashed sand is thrown landward, sometimes overtopped.  Flooding occurs, although the fury of the water sometimes masks in our minds eye its destructive depth.  Dunes built by wind blowing sand, grain by grain, are overtopped and flattened. Vegetation, the sea grapes and the palms are cast aside. Sea and sky become one in the howling wind. In a hurricane, the water surges higher and higher perhaps over the extent of the barrier islands that fringe most of the coastline.  If the coastline in question is parkland or wild land the changes will be repaired over time.

Most of Florida’s coast is not park or wild land.   Most of the coastline is inhabited.  There are millions of people there.  Most of Florida’s population is there. The condos and high rises are ubiquitous and this human altered landscape has monetary value.   Destructive coastal storms cost money.  Destroy property.  Kill people.  This is a historical fact.  There really is no escaping. Coastal development has accelerated.  There is more to destroy.  Even if the number and power of the storms were constant, the number of people affected, and the cost of the damage, will be greater.  But there is ample evidence that the storms are getting worse.  Many researchers see a trend of more severe storms as the sea heats up.  Others argue that there will be more storms for the same reason.  There is one more variable that is changing – sea level.  It is rising.  Not by much, so far.  A few centimeters of rise. The trend is for acceleration of this rise.  As the sea rises, the shore moves inland.  Very slowly, if the rise is small, and mainly during big storms. As the atmosphere warms, so does the sea.  This has been measured.  It is happening.  With more heat energy, the sea expands and this thermal expansion results in sea level rise.  Melting glaciers are also contributing.  Temperate zone glaciers on high mountains are melting away.  Those near the equator such as those on Mount Kilimanjaro, or on the flanks of Andean slopes are almost gone.  Glacier National Park, another national playground, will soon have no glaciers.  All of this water has been added to the thermally expanded sea.  The accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the potential rapid collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will add huge volumes of water.  Orders of magnitude more water.  Florida will have a different coastline.  People will have to find a new place to live and play.

Text prepared by Dr. James Brey

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Layers: Places in Peril

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