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Science, Travel

Permission to panic: Miami Beach is shrinking

If you’re one of the many people who include a trip to Miami beach on their bucket list, you might want to consider booking now. Because that little strip of sand is going, going, and almost gone.

The iconic beachfront is one of the most legendary party destinations in the United States, with thousands of Americans and Canadians flocking there every year, as illustrated in the music video for ‘Miami’, a song by not-so-great rapper Will Smith, who really should stick to acting.

But the halcyon days of Miami Beach vacations may soon be as much a thing of the past as the career of erstwhile Miami Vice star Don Johnson. It turns out that beaches – much like castles made of sand – melt into the sea eventually.

The culprit is a familiar one: climate change. Increased CO2 levels cause the atmosphere to retain more heat than it otherwise would, and this in turn causes ice to melt more than it usually would, which leads sea levels to rise, and no more beach.

Just the small amount of sea level increase we’ve experienced so far has drastically reduced the proportions of Miami’s beachfront. In fact, it turns out that Miami’s beach would already be pretty much gone if it wasn’t regularly replenished with truckloads of sand brought in from elsewhere – a common tactic at pretty much every tourist beach in America.

The Verge has a great series of interviews with the people behind these large-scale sand operations.

a dump truck unloads sand on a beach

In the case of Florida, all of this is just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic – not just for the beach, but for the city of Miami itself. This is because the usual tactics proposed for fighting rising sea levels, like building dykes and walls, won’t work at all in a state which rests on a bedrock of permeable limestone.

This means that no matter what Miami might try to do to stop the rising tides, the water will just end up seeping up through the groundwater table.

So remember, when you rush to book to a flight to Miami Beach to see it before it’s gone, you’ll actually be hurrying it on its way to the grave with the carbon footprint of your flight. But keep in mind, skipping your trip won’t really do anything to save it. So go anyway.

But once you arrive, try not to think about it. A few drinks of good Jamaican rum will help with that.

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