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Is the sea really rising?

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It is a normal part of the ocean’s life cycle to change levels. So why are people worried about it now? It is because Fort Lauderdale and all of Florida have seen the ocean rising much higher and faster than it ever has before.

What you need to know.

We have water around us and under us. Our part of Florida floats. In very simple terms, we sit on a giant slab of limestone rock with the ocean running underneath that slab. When we talk about sea level rising, we don't just mean that the tide will roll in higher and stronger over the beach. What we really mean is that the water all around us and under us is slowly inching up underneath our little piece of limestone.

We are flat as a pancake. Water flows downhill. Since we do not have hills or mountains, we don't have that natural flow to help us. What's more, we are at about the same level as the ocean. Therefore, when the sea rises even just a bit, there's no land to stop it or make it flow the opposite direction.

What it all means

We have to watch that our water doesn't get salty. Our freshwater is stored in natural underground holes called aquifers. The aquifers are in the limestone under us. As the sea rises, it gets closer to those aquifers. That means that salt water can get into the fresh water. Right now, we don't have the technology to take salt water and turn it into fresh water for drinking, even though there are some very smart people around the world who are working on it. For now, we just have to protect our freshwater supply. That means also protecting the pipes that we use to get the water from city wells to your home. Those pipes are underground. Salt can corrode pipes causing them to leak or break. We are working very hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

We need to try to prevent flooding that can be dangerous and is definitely inconvenient. Flooding happens for two reasons: first, the ground is too soaked through to hold any more water and it pools on top, and second, the places where the water is supposed to flow are already full and they overflow. Picture a sponge in a glass. If you pour too much water in , the sponge won't be able to hold any more. Eventually, the glass will be filled and it will overflow. That is sort of what happens here in Fort Lauderdale when it rains hard and you see flooding on our streets. We have a large network of drains to direct rainwater into our rivers, canals, intracoastal and even the ocean. Believe it or not, it works by gravity,  the water is sort flowing downhill. If the sea is getting closer to the land we live on, then there is less space for the rainwater to flow downward.  The result is flooding. There are ways to solve this problem, or at least make it easier to live with. For example, there are machines to direct the water flow, there are ways to pave streets that allow water to soak through, and we can use special green parks to absorb the water. We are testing these solutions and will keep everybody in the know about how they are working. 

We need to think about where and how we build. Our homes, offices, shops, schools, hospitals, and other buildings are sitting on pretty shallow ground. A long time ago, when many of these structures were first built, we didn't know that. Now that we do, we have to think about where it is smart to build and how to keep buildings safe. Don't worry, there are a lot of adults thinking about this. Maybe one day you will be a city planner or engineer or fire-rescue specialist who can help us think through these questions.

What We Are Doing

  • Planting special kinds of trees and plants along the ocean to catch the water and salt
  • Installing new pipes to carry our water
  • Encouraging people to use water wisely
  • Fixing roads and areas that flood easily by adding systems that drain water faster
  • Preserving extra rain water (known as storm water)
  • Planning for green spaces that will help funnel water slowly into our aquifer
  • Working with our neighbors throughout the whole state
  • Learning from people around the world

What You Can Do

Learn about Florida's topography and geology. It's one thing to take our word for it, and another to see for yourself. Use some of the links we provide to learn about the ground around you and under you.

Look at a map to figure out how changes in sea level would affect your neighborhood. The same scientist who are working to understand what might happen with the sea have produced some cool tools you can use to understand the problem. You can type in your zip code and see what would happen if the sea stayed where it is, rose one inch, two inches or more over time.

Observe your house or apartment building when it rains. Take an umbrella, ask an adult for permission, and then go exploring. When the water comes down, where does it go? Observe the difference between what happens when it falls on the grass, versus on a driveway. If you have rain gutters on your building, follow the water to see where it goes. Stand at the curb (watch for cars, please!), and watch the water flow. Where is it going? Understanding how water moves in our city will help you to understand the reasons for flooding.

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