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The “New” Underwater Threat for Miami

Miami "Underwater"

Being “underwater” is what a lot of homeowners experienced during the housing meltdown, but for people in Miami, that term is gaining a whole new meaning – one that is perhaps, more fitting. There are about 2.5 million people in Miami-Dade County, and if the latest scientific analysis is right, the ocean could rise enough to flood all of South Florida by the turn of the next century.

This new study used a satellite technique to determine how fast the Earth’s oceans are rising. It claims that before 1990, the sea was rising about 1.1 millimeters per year. That’s a faster rate than previous studies have shown. It also shows the rate of sea-level rise almost tripled to 3.1 millimeters per year from 1990 to 2012. Scientists say that may not seem like a large amount but even small increases in the sea level can cause major flooding and more deadly storm surges.

They attribute their results to the accuracy of this new satellite imaging technique. They say the old method of gathering information from various gauges around the world was prone to inaccuracies. Previous calculations were also based on the melting of land-supported glaciers and the ocean expansion as it grows warmer. Now, they say the melting of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to a faster rising ocean level.

The study was published by the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was first reported by the Washington Post. Researchers say their work proves that we will feel the effects of global warming in the immediate future. One German researcher was quoted by the Post as saying: “We have a much stronger acceleration in sea level rise than formerly thought.” He led the study out of the University of Siegen in Germany with help from researchers in Spain, France, Norway, and the Netherlands.

Oceans are Rising

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the concept of global warming, as we know, and it has become quite politicized.

I am not a politician or a scientist, so I can only do what I always do when it comes to real estate. I use my own eyes and ears…and Hollywood stars.

I live in Malibu, California and locals here who live on or near the beach are concerned. The famous beach next to where “BayWatch” was filmed has been making headline news for over a decade. It’s called Broad Beach, but if you went there today, you wouldn’t see a very broad beach.

Back in 2010, a storm took out the sand and caused major damage on some of the mansions – accelerating the erosion that was already underway.

Broad Beach property owners, which include many Hollywood celebrities, ponied up $4 million to bring in a 36,000-ton rock sea wall to protect their homes. It turns out those boulders haven’t worked very well to hold back the tides, so now those residents are hauling in sand, at a cost of over $31 million.

Unfortunately, there is now mega-controversy about the color and type of the sand that was purchased, so now there’s a new proposal to bring in tens of thousands of truckloads of replacement sand … from quarries 50 miles away in Ventura County.

But that proposal didn’t ago so well at the Malibu City Council meeting last month. Nearby residents are complaining that every property owner has to pitch in on the $17 million cost.

According to the LA Times, those who planned to contribute to the $3.1-million annual fund for the next decade are “Modern Family” co-creator Steve Levitan, billionaire businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong and actors Dustin Hoffman, Ray Romano and Pierce Brosnan. (Filmmaker Steven Spielberg last summer sold his Broad Beach compound, with 144 feet of ocean frontage, for $26 million.)

So what’s causing this erosion? Who really knows? But we do know something is happening.

Virtually all climate scientists agree that the oceans are in fact rising, and that greenhouse gas produced by humans could be responsible for global warming. But the rate of increase and the magnitude of the threat is a topic in great disagreement. In fact, some people don’t really think it’s much of a threat at all. Just a few days ago, President Trump pulled out of the landmark Paris Accord. It was negotiated and agreed upon by the leaders of 195 countries to address the problem of climate change and global warming.

The Accord does not create any international laws or dictate any mandates as to exactly what each country must do to reduce its carbon footprint. Individual countries set their own goals based on their unique set of circumstances. The accord simply represents a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make sure the Earth’s temperature doesn’t rise more than another 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists say that amount of warming could turn into a major environmental disaster, especially for coastal communities at risk of flooding from rising sea levels.

The German report is just one of several recent “warnings”. Just a few months ago, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an update to what it calls its extreme sea-level-rise scenario. It’s only a tiny bit less scary than the current report. It says the oceans could rise 8.2 feet by the year 2100.

And then there’s another report published in March by the Journal Nature that predicts the sea will rise more than six feet by 2100. It cites the cause as a rapid melting of the Antarctica ice cap. It also warns that oceans could rise by 49 feet in another 500 years.

Tropical Paradise at Risk

So how does this research affect some of the most coveted real estate markets in the United States?

Here’s the issue. As the Miami New Times writes, Miami is as “flat as a pancake” and it’s only about six feet above sea level. If the sea rises just one foot by the turn of the next century, which is what the German report is predicting, then virtually all of Southern Florida could find itself underwater. The turn of the century is just 83 years in the future so if this scenario plays out, it will happen in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.

According to the Miami Herald, the city is investing $100 million for a project to raise roads, install pumps and water mains and redo sewer connections to protect the Lakeview neighborhoods of Mid-Beach. A citywide effort to hold back Mother Nature is estimated to cost $400 to $500 million, but will it work? People who live in New Orleans ought to pay close attention. It’s of course, expected to be at the highest risk of flooding, as we’ve already witnessed. I personally would be very cautious about owning property there.

President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort is north of Miami so his magnificent estate could be at risk. He apparently doesn’t think so, but if you feel that this threat is real and are having doubts about a Florida investment, you can go farther north and find high ground.

Tampa is a coastal city on the west side of the state with an elevation of 48 feet. That represents a big safety margin for Tampa. Orlando has an even larger margin of safety. It’s in the central part of the state and rises 82 feet above sea level. On the east side, you have Jacksonville. Elevation is only 17 feet there, but that’s enough to keep the ocean where it’s supposed to be.

So if you are worried about investing your money in property that could be “underwater” in the true sense of the term, just look “north” of Miami. And if you think that global warming is real, keep the conversation going. If you think it’s not real, keep the conversation going. Discussions and debates are healthy and help us eventually come up with solutions. Just try to keep it civil and factual!


Kathy Fettke is the founder and co-CEO of Real Wealth Network, a passive real estate investing club with more than 24,000 members. She’s also the author of  “Retire Rich with Rentals” and host of podcasts “The Real Wealth Show” and “Real Estate News.” Contact her at kathy@realwealthnetwork.com.