If Climate Change Melts Greenland's Ice Sheet, Will South Florida Drown?

A giant sheet of ice that covers most of ​Greenland might be a serious problem for South Florida in a few hundred or few thousand years, give or take. 

A new study in Nature Climate Change warns that a 1.6 degree Celsius jump in global temperatures could completely melt Greenland's ice sheet. 

That's terrible because we're talking about ice that's on land -- not in the ocean -- meaning that sea levels could rise dramatically if the sheet were to vanish. 

Bloomberg reports that "the United Nations estimates the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by about seven meters (23 feet), threatening coastal cities from New York to London and Bangkok. Even so, the researchers said it could take thousands of years for the entire sheet to melt."

Frederick Bloetscher, an engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University, tells New Times that a mere three-foot rise in global sea levels would permanently flood entire areas of western Broward County.

"The issue for us is that as you go west from the coast, you're going downhill once you cross Dixie Highway," Bloetscher says. "What everyone needs to understand is that the whole drainage system is gravity-based, and that's particularly critical for Southern Broward and Miami-Dade."

Bloetscher explains that there are two main factors behind rising sea levels. The first is thermal expansion. "As water gets warmer, it expands," Bloetscher says. "It's basic physics."

The other is melting terrestrial ice, which relates to the Greenland dilemma. "It's not water in the ocean; it's water on land," he says. "As it goes into the ocean, it's going to accelerate sea-level rise."

Bloetscher says rising sea levels are going to be a critical problem in South Florida's future, especially if Greenland's ice sheet melts. 

"The Greenland ice sheet is known, understood, and studied," he says. "Yes, Greenland will affect us."

Several reports have been released in the past year warning that Broward is endangered by even slight increases in sea level. In October, Bloetscher and colleagues from FAU issued a paper suggesting that higher sea levels would lead to a host of problems, including widespread septic tank malfunctions, saltwater contamination, and, of course, flooding.

The Broward County Natural Resources Planning and Management Division released its own report estimating that Fort Lauderdale could be feeling the effects of higher sea levels as early as 2040 and that significant flooding could occur by 2075. 

Most recently, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact released a draft plan on steps we should take to mitigate the chances of Florida becoming a real-life WaterWorld

Even if Greenland's ice sheet remains frozen, the threat of rising levels doesn't seem to be going anywhere. 

"We have the longest continuous record in Key West that absolutely shows a long-term upward trend in sea levels," Bloetscher says. "What we want to do is plan to protect property from sea-level rise. If we wait until it's already here, it'll be too late."

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Chris Sweeney