• Robert Curtis

King Tide Returns

King tide season is in full swing here in South Florida. Caused by the compounded gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon on Earth’s watery surface, this annual event is when the highest tides of the year occur. Depending on the location, these tidal surges can reach anywhere from 1 to 2.5ft (NAVD) above the average sea level (whereas the current average high tide only reaches around .5ft above sea level).

Given that land in South Florida averages at around 3ft (NAVD), with many areas sitting right at sea-level, these three-hour flooding events can flood streets, low-lying areas, and waterfront properties across the region. This “Sunny Day Flooding,” a term coined by striking visuals of submerged lands on an otherwise clear day, provides a taste of what is to come in South Florida as global climate changes at an alarming rate.

For Curtis + Rogers, last weekend’s window of king tide flooding brought us to Jose Marti Park. And while our months-long site analyses and flood modeling exercises certainly set the bar for the adaptive work that needs to be undertaken to make this park resilient, nothing prepared us for confronting the reality of the park toppled by the waters of the Miami River; a broken barrier between land and water that suddenly makes one feel much smaller and more vulnerable to the power of the natural world.

(swipe left to see what this site looks like without flooding)

Beyond data collection for the park's adaptive redesign, the purpose of our visit was to assist Florida International University in their longest-running citizen science program, Sea Level Solutions Day. Our task – to collect and enter data on water depth and quality. The goal – to populate a database that provides a more nuanced understanding of sea-level rise, creating opportunities to develop data-driven solutions to localized climate change.

Upon arrival at the data collection point, we immediately noted a significant amount of organic debris, murky substances, and single-use plastics suspended in the floodwaters. These waters came up beneath the concrete seawall, traveling their way along the lowest-lying upland areas to create a mirrored glaze that coated over 500 square feet of normally dry land.

At 10:03 am, the peak of this year’s king tide, water levels were 10.75 inches above the land's surface, approximately 2ft above sea-level. And while we weren’t able to immediately capture the results of the water quality tests (in-lab testing required), by solely assessing the number of suspended solids, we were confident that this was definitely not water one would want to drink, let alone bathe in.

A recently released report showed that the king tides of 2020 in Miami-Dade could be the equivalent of the daily high tide by 2040. In that regard, these floods depict a looming dystopia if no action is taken towards fortifying critical infrastructure, curbing the emission of greenhouse gases, and preparing communities for change. On the other hand, current king tide flooding presents a testing ground for solutions to sea-level rise, an incubator for innovative responses to a rapidly evolving environment. At Curtis + Rogers, we bet on the latter through a redesigned park to allow all its users, both human and animal, to adapt to an uncertain future.

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Designing Resilient Landscapes for a Sustainable Future