South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve is aptly named for its abundance of large cypress trees. The 720,000-acre stretch of land is one of the last few large chunks of protected Everglades wetland in South Florida — but thanks to a web of nefarious, manmade problems, the site will likely look very different within the next 50 years.
For one, oil company trucks are driving through the area in a search for possible stores of black gold buried underground, which does not bode well for a federally protected preserve.
And now Florida International University researchers warn that, thanks to sea-level rise, the bald cypress trees on the preserve might not survive much longer. According to an FIU study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental and Experimental Botany, rising oceans mean an infusion of more saltwater into the wetland ecosystem — and some of the preserve’s cypress trees aren’t equipped to handle that much salt. FIU’s ecologists warn that humans might need to add chemicals to water in areas such as Big Cypress to prevent all of the trees from dying.
MONIQUE COLEMAN’S BASEMENT was still wet with saltwater when the rallying began. Just days after Superstorm Sandy churned into the mid-Atlantic region, pushing a record-breaking surge into the country’s most densely populated corridor, the governor of New Jersey promised to put the sand back on the beaches.
The “build it back stronger” sentiment never resonated with Coleman, who lived not on the state’s iconic barrier islands but in a suburban tidal floodplain bisected by 12 lanes of interstate highway. Sandy was being billed as an unusual “Frankenstorm,” a one-in-500-year hurricane that also dropped feet of snow. But for Coleman and many residents of the Watson-Crampton neighborhood in Woodbridge Township, the disaster marked the third time their houses had been inundated by floodwaters in just three years. Taxed by the repetitive assault of hydrodynamic pressure, some foundations had collapsed.
As evacuees returned home for another round of sump pumps and mold, Coleman considered her options. Woodbridge sits in the pinched waist of New Jersey, where a network of rivers and creeks drain to the Raritan Bay and then to the Atlantic Ocean. She heard that the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t be coming to build a berm or tide gate; the area had recently been evaluated, and such costly protections seemed unlikely.
Spurred by previous storms, Coleman had already learned a bit about the ecological history of her nearly 350-year-old township. She discovered that parts of her neighborhood, like many chunks of this region, were developed atop low-lying wetlands, which had been elevated with poorly draining “fill” back around the early 20th century. As Coleman researched more deeply, a bigger picture emerged. “I started to realize that, in a sense, we were victims of a system because we were living in a neighborhood that should have never been built,” she says.
CHERSKIY, RUSSIANikita Zimov was teaching students to do ecological fieldwork in northern Siberia when he stumbled on a disturbing clue that the frozen land might be thawing far faster than expected.
Zimov, like his father, Sergey Zimov, has spent years running a research station that tracks climate change in the rapidly warming Russian Far East. So when students probed the ground and took soil samples amid the mossy hummocks and larch forests near his home, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Nikita Zimov suspected something wasn’t right.
In April he sent a team of workers out with heavy drills to be sure. They bored into the soil a few feet down and found thick, slushy mud. Zimov said that was impossible. Cherskiy, his community of 3,000 along the Kolyma River, is one of the coldest spots on Earth. Even in late spring, ground below the surface should be frozen solid.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Elizabeth Boineau’s 1939 Colonial sits a block and a half from the Ashley River in a sought-after neighborhood of ancient live oaks, charming gardens and historic homes. A year ago, she thought she could sell it for nearly $1 million. But after dropping the price 11 times, Boineau has decided to tear it down.
In March, the city’s Board of Architectural Review approved the demolition — a decision not taken lightly in Charleston’s historic district.
“Each time that I was just finishing up paying off the bills, another flood would hit,” Boineau said.
Boineau is one of many homeowners on the front lines of society’s confrontation with climate change, living in houses where rising sea levels have worsened flooding not just in extreme events like hurricanes, but also heavy rains and even high tides. Now, three studies have found evidence that the threat of higher seas is also undermining coastal property values as home buyers — particularly investors — begin the retreat to higher ground.
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat, but a growing number of new studies, including one out Thursday, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes.
The bottom line: According to a new report by the nonprofit First Street Foundation, housing values in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut dropped $6.7 billion from 2005 to 2017 due to flooding related to sea level rise. Combined with their prior analysis of 5 southeastern coastal states with $7.4 billion in lost home value, the total loss in 8 states since 2005 has been $14.1 billion.
Inside Climate News
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution denouncing the idea of a U.S. carbon tax as detrimental to the economy, one week before a Republican-sponsored bill to create a carbon fee is set to be introduced.
It was a win for a coalition of groups funded by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy, right-wing opponents of climate action. And it revealed weak resolve for bucking GOP leadership among most of the 43 Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
If the bipartisan caucus had held firm, the resolution would have been handily defeated.
Instead, only six Republicans—four of them caucus members, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who plans to unveil the carbon fee measure next week—joined most Democrats in opposing the resolution. Seven Democrats voted with the GOP.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.