October King Tide Brings Trove Of Data For Sea-Level Threat In Miami Beach

Sep 29, 2014

TIDAL SCENE: The October King Tide of 2013 was a problem in Miami Beach. This was the scene at 10th Street and Alton Road.
Credit Arianna Prothero / WLRN

Another King Tide will wash over South Florida on Oct. 9.

That’s the alignment of the Earth, sun and moon in a way that gives us the highest tides of the year. And this one will bring an opportunity for local students who are really serious about climate change and sea-level rise to glimpse and document coastal Florida’s possible future.

In a crowded meeting room at Florida International University’s North Miami campus, 190 college students and science whizzes from FIU’s elite public high school, MAST, are being prepared for the big King Tide day.

Here's how we are going to build in the future. Here's who's going to be able to live here in the future. -- Robert Gutsche, FIU

But first, Caroline Lewis of the local climate change clearinghouse, the Cleo Institute, needs to gauge their interest on a scale of 1 to 10. Ones rarely think about climate change and talk about it even less, she explains.

“But a 10 would be someone who does not shut up about climate change, whose family is so sick of them they won't even have them over for Thanksgiving anymore,” Lewis concludes as the students erupt in self-recognizing laughter.

This is a crowd of 10s, and they are preparing to spend Oct. 9 sloshing around in the King Tide flood waters of Miami Beach with donated electronic sensors that measure the depth and salinity of the seawater. Saad Masud, a 15-year-old sophomore at MAST, believes it’s important work.

“If we can understand how the effects of this huge tide is going to be, we’ll be able to better enhance our drainage systems,” he says.

All that data, along with helium-balloon images of the coastline during the King Tide, will be studied to refine estimates of how degrees of sea-level rise will make life difficult or even impossible in coming years. Faculty advisor Robert Gutsche says it may provide some necessary answers.

“Here’s how we are going to build in the future," Gutsche says. "Here’s who’s going to be able to live here in the future. Here’s what our big problem is.”

More than most places, Miami Beach is already experiencing sea-level rise. Its storm sewers are overwhelmed most of the time and there are floods even without rain. King Tides have been difficult on the beach in recent years. But this one may come with a chance to learn and even a climate change lesson: 10s may be the true believers, but even the ones get wet.