In Miami, it’s no secret that sunny day flooding is occurring more often, nor that rising sea levels and climate change are to blame. But, as is often the case when you drill down into the inner workings of our planet, the full story is a bit more complicated.

Flooding in Miami Beach, Florida in September 2014. Image: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Sea levels in South Florida have gone up about 30cm since the 1930s, but around 2011, the slow upward creep of the ocean seemed to kick into high gear, with tidal gauges recording much faster rates of sea level rise and residents noting a stark uptick in so-called “nuisance” floods. A new study confirms that this was not Floridians’ imaginations: From 2011 to at least 2015, the rate of sea level rise across the southeastern US shot up by a factor of six, from 3-4mm/year to 20mm/year, and a combination of oceanic and atmospheric processes seem to be responsible. While more research is needed to be sure of what caused this sea level “hot spot”, the study reminds us that the oceans aren’t rising evenly, in space or time.

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