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In Wake of Miami Collapse, it is clear South Florida is in Danger

Rescue workers are working on the rubble at South Champlain Towers in Surfside.

Rescue workers are working on the rubble at South Champlain Towers in Surfside.
Photo: Gerald Herbert (AP)

On Thursday, a 12-story beach condominium north of Miami Beach collapsed, killing at least four people with almost 160 still missing. It could be a scary sign for the future, especially when sea level rise undermines the very foundation on which South Florida lies.

Long before the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed, the building began to collapse. An April 2020 study found that the area showed signs of terrestrial subsidence-Drinking brought about by natural occurrences such as droughts and aggravated by human activities such as the extraction of fossil fuels and groundwater. The study authors said USA Today that in the 1990s, the building was declining at a rate of 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) per year, although it is not clear that this necessarily contributed to its horrific collapse.

Officers are just beginning their investigation into what caused the devastating crash of the ship. More data will be needed to explain what happened and the role, if any, of subsidence played.

“At this point, any hypothesis is nothing more than a simple speculation,” Henry O. Briceño, a professor at Florida International University who studies water quality and geology, wrote in an email. “We have to wait for the engineers to collect and analyze the information.”

But even though the specifics of the crash are still under investigation, it’s been clear for decades that rising sea levels and subsidence threaten infrastructure – and people – in South Florida. And the time to deal with these risks is now, especially with what the next few decades have for the region. Sea level rise is expected to accelerate. A report published last year found that Miami “faces the greatest risk of any major coastal city in the world” because of the amount of expensive real estate and people living in such a fragile location. According to the report, it is estimated that $ 3.5 billion of real estate is at risk of flooding by the 2070s. Those buildings, however, are poorly equipped for sea growth.

“While it is too early to determine the cause, it is definitely not too early to worry about how building and other infrastructure will be impacted as the flooding from sea-level rise worsens, and whether there is a plan to modify and sustain these buildings or whether they should ultimately be abandoned and removed,” Andrea Dutton, a geoscientist at the University of Madison Wisconsin and former associate professor of geology at the University of Florida, wrote in an email.

Buildings in Surfside and Miami Beach are constructed atop reclaimed wetland. Underpinning them is porous limestone, which forms the region’s geological base. As rising seas encroach on the area—whether from storm surge or increasingly frequent sunny day floods-Drough and corrosive groundwater can be pushed into the limestone, causing problems for the structures.

“If seawater penetrates a column and reaches the reinforcement, it will oxidize and the products will increase in volume, creating tensions that in turn could crack the concrete,” Briceño said, announcing inspectors probing the collapse. of Surfside “will have to check if something like this has happened.”

Whether or not these factors were a factor, however, could certainly threaten infrastructure in the future.

“The structures will be subject to conditions for which they were not designed, such as being under sea water permanently,” Briceño said. “Concrete mixtures are prepared for what they are supposed to support according to the concept, both mechanically and chemically.”

Tragically, the Champlain tower was due for a 40-year inspection soon, which might have shown that he was in danger of falling. With such terrible threats going on, officials may want to consider conducting such inspections more often. Dutton feared it might even be time to start moving people and infrastructure from Surfside throughout, a fate that some areas are also facing. already being considered because of the rising seas.

“One of my concerns is that the harsh urban landscapes will become flooded without a plan to remove such infrastructure, and then our shores will become just a pile of concrete, metals and glass,” he said.

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