Tag Archives: Built Environment

The Coastal Built Environment in Southeast Florida and Sea Level Rise: Prognosis for potential damage and needed change.

Organized by the Florida Center for Environmental Studies [CES] at Florida Atlantic University [FAU], and with support from several public and private agencies and institutions, an important conference – RISK AND RESPONSE: SEA LEVEL RISE SUMMIT: The Future of Florida and the Coast – took place on 20-22 June 2012 at the Marriott Hotel, Boca Raton, Florida.

Some of the sponsors of the SLR 2012 Summit
Additional sponsors of the SLR 2012 Summit

Truly an outstanding 2-1/2 day conference featuring: 1)  An exhibition of more than 40 scientific posters covering an ample range of topics, from * Statement of the Problem; *Impacts on the Built Environment; * Economic Impacts; * Organizing for Climate Change through Partnerships; * Adaptation and Mitigation – Preparing for the Future; and * Education: Explaining the Problem, Sharing the Message. 2) Two wonderful and dynamic keynote speakers: Margaret Davidson, Director of NOAA Coastal Services Center, who delivered inspirational opening remarks on the topic of Vulnerability, Impacts, and Adaptation in Florida, and Michael E. Mann, published author and professor of Meteorology at Penn State University who spoke about his work linking global warming to greenhouse gas emissions, and the fallout of political attacks that ensued, which are documented in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. 3) A total of seven working sessions where seven moderators and 32 panelists discussed, and presented views and research findings on a range of topics, while also involving the audience of more than 250 participants in lively Q&A and comments segments.

I had the privilege of being invited to be a panelist in Session Four: Impacts on Built Environment: Urban Planning where we responded to the following question: How is urban infrastructure and housing, both existing and new development, adapting to increases in sea level? The session moderator was Anthony Abbate, Associate Provost for Broward Campuses and Professor, School of Architecture, Florida Atlantic University; and the panel consisted of: Daniel Williams, Rhonda Haag, Margo Moehring and Ricardo A. Alvarez.

Four of the speakers at the SLR 2012 Summit, including Anthony Abbate who moderated session 4, and Ricardo A. Alvarez one of the panelist in Session 4

As a panelist I focused my remarks on the potential for damage to coastal buildings and infrastructure from the impact of storm surge, which is being exacerbated by sea level rise, and which in my view constitutes the dynamic and most visual evidence of sea level rise and the current threat it represents for our built-environment. My presentation was based on notes from a paper in progress under the title of: The Coastal Built Environment in Southeast Florida and Sea Level Rise: Prognosis for potential damage and needed change. To view these notes go to the banner menu above and click on CONFERENCES-PRESENTATIONS, then select Panel Presentation: Sea Level Rise Summit 20-22 June 201.

I have been involved in global change and sea level rise arena since 1997, and the specific topic of impacts to the built environment and the need for adaptation has been on the table in most of the numerous conferences and workshops I have attended over the years, but this specific SLR 2912 SUMMIT is the first time that this topic is directly addressed and discussed, both from the perspective of a problem that will grow worse over time in the future, and that of potential solutions and areas of additional research. In this regard I must say that our panel received immediate feedback during the Q&A segment that followed our presentations and discussions. At a personal level, I had twelve participants who approached me after the session had ended to ask additional questions, or to share ideas and comments regarding the specific topic of adaptation of the built environment. Also, I have continued to receive follow-up comments via email throughout this the week after the Summit.  I submit this confirms: (1) How appropriate and on target was the inclussion of this specific topic in the program for the Summit, and (2) The high level of importance  the public gives to this issue as reflected by the involvement of the participants who were a representative sample of the public at large.

In closing I would like to emphasize we all must stay on this topic, which means we will need to engage in follow-up workshops and conferences, and in a continuous and vibrant dialog as we search for solutions and alternatives for the many facets of the problem. In this, we must maintain an open mind while we work toward solutions staying above the ‘noise’ of ‘nay-sayers’ claiming either there is nothing that can be done or that it isn’t happening. Godspeed to us all, let us roll-up our sleeves and tackle this head-on!

Sea Level Rise in Florida

Back in 1995 I was a consultant to an architectural/engineering team that had been charged with evaluating the vulnerability of a major hospital, located near the coastline of southeastern Florida, to the impacts of hurricanes. The assessment of vulnerability had the objective of determining if there were practical alternatives for the hospital to exercise in lieu of the mandatory evacuation it faced in case a hurricane warning were to be issued by Miami-Dade County, which carried a mandatory evacuation order.

Evacuating a major hospital, as I discovered while I participated in that study, especially one where a large percentage of the patients require intensive care or are frail and elderly, is truly a major and critical undertaking. In addition, evacuation of a hospital raises critical issues of respnsibility for patient care, access to medical records, patient safety, and liability.

My participation in this project led me to propose “Sheltering-in-place”as an alternative to evacuation for major hospital vulnerable to the impact of hurricanes. This proposed alternative survived a rigorous process of debate and peer review involving professionals in several disciplines and representatives from the state and county governments, and in 1996 became the accepted paradigm in Miami-Dade County.

In approaching this assessment of vulnerability, I first gathered data to establish a baseline regarding the physical characteristics of the project site relative to the hazard impacts it faced as a result of its location. Data related to ground elevation, proximity to the ocean

and intracoastal waters, coastal bathymetry characteristics were gathered to paint a picture of what could happen at the site under the impact of a hurricane.

In the course of doing this I made one important discovery. Existing surveys and site plans for the hospital campus did not reflect the actual conditions of the place in 1995. To begin with the survey of ground elevations and elevation of ground floors of the several building on campus was based on NGVD (National Geodetic Vertical Datum), meaning mean sea level as it had been measured back in 1929. I realized then I needed to determine what these various ground and building elevations with respect to mean sea level were in 1995, so that we could take into account any changes in sea level from 1929 to 1996. Research of tide-gage records and several data sets maintained by NOAA indicated mean sea level at this location in 1995 was 0.23 meters above the 1929 NGVD.

This was a truly significant discovery for two main reasons: (a) it meant ground and building ground-floor elevations were 23 centimeters lower with respect to mean sea level than indicated in site survey and plan documents, (b) it also meant the potential impacts of storm surge and coastal flooding during hurricanes would result in higher water and wave heights. In summary, the hospital facility was more vulnerable to these impacts in 1995 that it would have been in 1929 if it had been built at that time. What truly made this a critically significant discovery was the realization that as sea level continued to rise in the future the potential impacts from storm surge, waves and coastal flooding would be exacerbated increasing the vulnerability of the hospital, hence its potential for damage under the impact of hurricanes.

My research at the time also showed that all available sources of data to assess the vulnerability of the site, such as flood maps and storm sure atlases were all based on NGVD 1929 and did not make any provisions for sea level rise. I also found that design standards, such as ASCE-7 (American Society of Civil Engineers – Standard 7), were also based on references to historical data of sea level and flood elevations and did not include methodology to make corrections to account for historical or future changes in sea level. Clearly this was a situation that needed to be corrected in order to arrive at more accurate estimates of potential damage to buildings and infrastructure from the impact of hurricanes.

It is now 2011, sixteen years later, and while some changes have taken place much remains to be done. Most land surveys and ground elevation studies are now using AVD-88 (the American Vertical Datum of 1988) as the point of reference and several data sources now exist that allow for far more accurate determination of current mean sea level as well as estimations of future mean sea levels at specific locations. Unfortunately the sobering reality is that design criteria for building and infrastructure design and construction have yet to incorporate provisions to account for the impacts of storm surge and waves and coastal flooding as these hazards continue to be exacerbated by sea level rise.

On a positive note it is good to see that here in Florida the state government and other entities are focusing on the potential impacts of climate change, publishing important studies and documents on these topics. The Florida Ocean and Coastal Council is one of such agencies, which in 2009 published “The Effects of Climate Change on Florida’s Ocean and Coastal Resources” a peer-reviewed document with the objective of educating the state legislature and the general public on what we know about these potential climate change impacts based on current state of science, what is probable and what is possible in term of potential impacts. I was one of the contributing authors to this study and worked on it during 2008 and 2009.

 A new peer-reviewed report also commissioned by the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in “, has just been published ( click on following link to read this report, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise[1].) As with the previous study I was also a contributing author to this one together with several other Florida scientists and members of the council. My specific contribution was in the area of impacts to the built environment and coastal infrastructure, a chapter that was edited and coordinated by my good friend Karl Havens, Ph.D., from the University of Florida who is also Director and Professor of Florida Sea Grant College Program.

This report provides an excellent foundation for various sectors to identify adaptation alternatives, which may prove effective in reducing the potential for damage from the impact of hazards driven by or exacerbated by climate change. It is clear than in a state such as Florida, a narrow low laying peninsula, where must of the urban development and infrastructure is located on the coastal regions, sea-level rise exacerbated storm surge, wave impacts and coastal flooding constitute critical factors in the development of design-criteria for future buildings and infrastructure and for the retrofitting of existing facilities and built-environment if we are to have a chance of adapting to sea-level rise and its consequences in the future.