Terrifying New Map Shows What May Be Left Of Florida As Sea Levels Rise

Elisabeth Parker

As Hurricane Irma slams into Florida with gale-force winds, experts sound warnings of rising sea levels and the future of the Sunshine State's coastlines.

Late Saturday night, ABC News reported gusts of 74 mph and tornado sightings as Irma bore down on the Florida Keys. Over 6 million were ordered to evacuate, while 75,000 more have sought refuge in shelters. The city of Miami Beach and three counties -- Palm Beach, Broward, Charlotte -- have also imposed curfews. Despite frequent tropical squalls, Gov. Rick Scott called this a "deadly, deadly, deadly storm surge" and declared, "This is a life-threatening situation. Our state has never seen anything like it."

Hurricane Irma's rising sea levels have also given ABC News' meteorologists cause for alarm, with Florida's west coast bearing the brunt. They predict 10-foot storm surges in Tampa and Sarasota and 10-15 feet along the stretch between Fort Meyers and Naples.

"Somewhat lower storm surges of 3 to 6 feet may occur from Miami to Key Largo," ABC News adds.

The fearsome storm was downgraded to Category 3 from the record Category 5 extreme weather event that wreaked havoc on Cuba, Barbuda, and other islands in the Carribean. Yet the howling winds were still expected to reach speeds of 120 miles per hour. Then, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Hurricane Irma was upgraded back to a Category 4.

The combination of rising sea levels due to climate change-induced ice melt leaves the low-lying coastlines of southern Florida highly vulnerable to flooding and extreme weather events. The left side of the image shows Florida as it is today -- with the most flood-prone areas shown in dark green. As the folks at NASA note, "even those highest elevations are only about 60 meters (197 feet) above sea level."

The map on the right shows what would happen if sea levels rise by 16 feet. That may sound like a long way off, but even smaller rises can do a lot of damage. As the Miami Herald grimly observes, the southern part of Florida is swampland that's only buildable because of water control, and "humans won't be able to control water levels in Florida forever."

"Only a few feet of sea level rise could put the southern part of the state completely under water."

"The Greenland ice sheet, covering 660,000 square miles -- nearly the area of Alaska -- shed an average of 303 gigatons of ice a year over the past decade, according to satellite measurements. The Antarctic ice sheet, covering 5.4 million square miles --larger than the United States and India combined -- has lost an average of 118 gigatons a year."
"Based on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]'s most recent projections, worst-case estimates call for a 2-foot sea level rise by 2060 and more than 6 feet by 2100."

The map below, generated by the NOAA's interactive Sea Level Rise Viewer, shows which parts of Florida and other states along the East and Gulf coasts would be submerged if sea levels rise by just six feet.

Here's a Fox News reporter giving an update from Key Largo as Hurricane Irma roared into the Florida Keys.