Socio-ecological Vulnerability to Climate Change in South Florida Dissertation

(2014). Socio-ecological Vulnerability to Climate Change in South Florida . 10.25148/etd.FI14040839

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Eisenhauer, Emily


  • Awareness of extreme high tide flooding in coastal communities has been increasing in recent years, reflecting growing concern over accelerated sea level rise. As a low-lying, urban coastal community with high value real estate, Miami often tops the rankings of cities worldwide in terms of vulnerability to sea level rise. Understanding perceptions of these changes and how communities are dealing with the impacts reveals much about vulnerability to climate change and the challenges of adaptation.

    This empirical study uses an innovative mixed-methods approach that combines ethnographic observations of high tide flooding, qualitative interviews and analysis of tidal data to reveal coping strategies used by residents and businesses as well as perceptions of sea level rise and climate change, and to assess the relationship between measurable sea levels and perceptions of flooding. I conduct a case study of Miami Beach’s storm water master planning process which included sea level rise projections, one of the first in the nation to do so, that reveals the different and sometimes competing logics of planners, public officials, activists, residents and business interests with regards to climate change adaptation. By taking a deeply contextual account of hazards and adaptation efforts in a local area I demonstrate how this approach can be effective at shedding light on some of the challenges posed by anthropogenic climate change and accelerated rates of sea level rise.

    The findings highlight challenges for infrastructure planning in low-lying, urban coastal areas, and for individual risk assessment in the context of rapidly evolving discourse about the threat of sea level rise. Recognition of the trade-offs and limits of incremental adaptation strategies point to transformative approaches, at the same time highlighting equity concerns in adaptation governance and planning. This new impact assessment method contributes to the integration of social and physical science approaches to climate change, resulting in improved understanding of socio-ecological vulnerability to environmental change.

publication date

  • March 26, 2014


  • Miami
  • Miami Beach
  • South Florida
  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • sea level rise
  • socio-ecological
  • urban flooding
  • vulnerability

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)