On a clear day in Miami, Florida, a drone buzzes overhead, carefully scanning the ground below. Across town, on the eighth floor of a municipal office building, a team of archivists pore over thousands of pages of building plans. Meanwhile, on the street, a squad of surveyors searches for clues to a mystery lying beneath their feet.
These efforts will combine to create the most detailed map ever of Miami’s topography, its patchwork of sea walls, and the hidden web of drains, pipes, and pumps that keep its streets dry. When it’s done, engineers will have an elaborate model of the city that they can inundate with virtual rising seas and 100-year storms. Those simulations will tell them, in granular detail, which parts of town will flood and which buildings will see the most damage from future storms.
The city has its eye on the future. In the next 50 years, researchers project that South Florida will see 21 to 54 inches (0.5 to 1.4 meters) of sea level rise above 2000 levels. Days with extreme rainfall are expected to become 9% to 12% more common in the southeast by the middle of the century. And hurricanes are expected to get rainier and cause larger storm surges.