BOCA RATON — If you're worried about rising sea levels but you still want to live in Florida, Palm Beach County is a relatively safe place to own property, but probably not Pinellas County.
If oceans continue to rise in the coming decades, the areas most likely to be under water are Pinellas, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Lee counties, said scientists who gathered Thursday for Florida Atlantic University's Sea Level Rise Summit.
Palm Beach County benefits from elevations that are about 2 feet higher than those lower-lying areas, said Jayantha Obeysekera, director of modeling at the South Florida Water Management District.
"Palm Beach is a little higher," Obeysekera said.
South Florida stands to sustain significant damage from rising sea levels, said Ben Strauss, chief operating officer of Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. Florida is home to nearly half of the 4.9 million Americans who live at elevations less than 4 feet above the high-tide line, he said.
Among the cities with the most residents living at those elevations: Hialeah, Pembroke Pines, Cape Coral, Miami Beach, Plantation, Miramar and Fort Lauderdale.
Many of those cities are well inland, reflecting the reality that properties near the Everglades can face a higher risk of flooding than oceanfront homes.
"The mental image most people have is mansions on the beach," Strauss said.
There was no debate among scientists that seas are rising. Gary Mitchum, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said sea levels rose less than 2 millimeters a year from 1950 to 1992. Since 1992, he said, seas have been rising more than 3 millimeters a year.
Scientists acknowledge that they can't predict how quickly sea levels will continue to rise, but they agreed that it will be decades before South Florida sees catastrophic flooding.
The Sea Level Rise Summit continues today.