Recurrence flooding in Miami Beach as an indicator of accelerating rates of sea level rise along the US Atlantic coast

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Shimon Wdowinski1, Ronald L. Bray1, Ben P Kirtman2 and Zhaohua Wu3, (1)University of Miami, Marine Geology and Geophysics, Miami, FL, United States, (2)University of Miami - RSMAS, Miami, FL, United States, (3)Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, United States
Since 2006, the coastal community of Miami Beach has experienced an increasing rate of flooding, which caused severe property damage and significant disruptions to daily life. To evaluate the flooding frequency and its causes, we conducted a temporal analysis of tide gauge, rain, media report, insurance claim, and photo records from Miami Beach of the past 16 years. The analysis shows that most flooding events occur after heavy rain (> 80 mm) during high tide conditions, but also after the fall equinox tides regardless of rain events. In 2013, a “clear sky” flooding event also occurred just before the spring equinox. We also evaluated changes in flooding frequency over the past 16 years. Our analysis reveals that since 2006, rain-induced events increased by 33% and tide-induced events quadrupled, from 2 events during 1998-2005 to 8-16 events in 2006-2013.

In order to understand the causes for the observed increase in flooding frequency, we analyzed the the nearby Virginia Key tide gauge record. We used the Ensemble Emperical Mode Decomposition (EEMD) technique to evaluate trend change in the record and found a significant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise (SLR) since 2006. The average rate of SLR since 2006 is 9±4 mm/yr, which is significantly higher than the global average rate of 3.2±0.4 mm/yr. We also have looked how SLR in the Miami area relates to the large-scale ocean circulation from a very high resolution global climate model simulation. The model results indicate that a weakening of the entire Gulf Stream system (decrease in kinetic energy) is correlated with increasing sea level in the Miami area. Our results support the hypothesis postulated by previous studies that accelerating rate of SLR along the US Atlantic coast are cause by the weakening of the Gulf Stream (e.g., Ezer et al., 2013).