Climate change a factor in growing erosion problem along A1A?

Experts look at climate change playing a role in accelerated beach erosion

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Did climate change play a role in the accelerated beach erosion along A1A in Fort Lauderdale?

The moon casted a brilliant, yet ominous glow on the waters off a 4-block stretch of A1A from NE 20th street to Sunrise, the eastern edge of which collapsed into the ocean on Friday.

Locals have been documenting the steady erosion of the shoreline since Super Storm Sandy swiped the area with strong wind gusts and large swells. The final punch came on Friday with high tides paired with a strong surf.

Portions of the sea wall, sidewalks and palm trees collapsed into the Atlantic.

A public shower stall used by beach-goers coming in from the beach sits at a slant in the ocean. The foundation of a street light at NE 16th court surrounded by white surf. The water lapping exposed wires.

Now the ocean's waves are dangerously close to what's left. Water and sand have compromised the northbound lanes of A1A, eroding the remaining fragments of parking spots.

After declaring an emergency, the Florida Department of Transportation built a wall of concrete traffic barriers. With a full moon expected on Wednesday they are considering adding more to the roadway as a possible breakwater if needed. On Tuesday morning they will re-paint the road and add barriers to ensure cars, cyclists and pedestrians don't travel the area that is now deemed unsafe. It remains unclear when the northbound lanes will re-open to traffic but it is known that that could take months. Police are now using the southbound lanes as two one-way paths so drivers can travel the stretch in both directions.

The words on most people's lips out here: climate change.

Craig Mayor lives nearby and told Local 10, "it's serious when you look at what's happening right now whether its global warming we have no clue what's this is all from."

We took that concern to Broward County's Natural Resources Administrator Eric Myers. Myers also works with the county's Beach Management Program.

"Fort lauderdale has been remarkable stable for decades," Myers told Local 10's Christina Vazquez, "particularly in that area where A1A comes so close to the beach, it's been fairly consistent. It gets narrower in the winter when you get the winter storms and then in the summer in the milder weather the beach gets a little bit wider. This year for some reason that pattern got out of kilter with two or three storms and this last sort of unnamed event which brought probably as big of waves as Hurricane Sandy did."

That "unnamed event" was the combination of high tides and large swells which led to Friday's sudden collapse of a portion of AIA following weeks of beach erosion after Super Storm Sandy.

"I think that as an individual event it's hard to say that these storm conditions are attributable to climate change. Nobody is going to go out and say that that event would not have happened absent client change."

Myers went on to explain how climate change isn't "the" cause for something this dramatic but rather a contributing factor.

"Things like sea level rises that have been documented to be occurring here in South Florida certainly will lead to more beach erosion. As the base elevation of the sea increases that will allow waves to run farther up the beach and cause more erosion so as sea levels increase that is something that will increase beach erosion."

Myers told Local 10 the water around South Florida have increased by up to 10 inches in the past 80-90 years.

What happened in Fort Lauderdale may be the community's wake-up call to what area scientists have been documenting for quiet some time. Take for example the on-going problem of saltwater intrusion of South Florida's underwater drinking supply; or the increased frequency of street flooding in Miami Beach during high tides.

In the words of University of Miami's Dr. Harold Wanless, "South Florida is drowning."

"That's what the climate scientists tell us," explained Myers, "I think that its being manifested everywhere. I think you are going to see that higher sea levels contribute to all sorts of problems and mischief that we are going to have to deal with. I don't think there are absolute answers, I think the answer to beach erosion to some degree is getting more sand on the beach but that comes at a great cost. You have to find both money and sand to do that."

Fort Lauderdale's Mayor Jack Seiler is ready to have that conversation about how to deal with the inevitable impact a rise is seal levels will have on the coastline.

"The climate experts need to be brought in to this discussion," he told Local 10's Bob Norman, "we hope it doesn't cost our tourism industry."