New York City could face apocalyptic floods every five years by 2030
Over the last few years, in big-budget blockbusters on the silver screen, the public has become eerily accustomed to a devastated New York City. From King Kong to Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and Cloverfield, there's something universally horrifying about disaster laying waste to the iconic streets of The Big Apple. These disturbing scenes have even more resonance in a post-9/11 America after two hijacked planes and the collapsing World Trade Centre killed a combined total of 2,996 people. Yet scientists scrying the grim portents conjured by climate change have come up with some disturbing predictions and determined that, in the years to come, catastrophe will strike NYC. A catastrophe that will dwarf any movie monster or special effect, and eventually prove more destructive than the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled 'Impact of Climate Change on New York City’s Coastal Flood Hazard,' researchers have determined that New York could see an "apocalyptic" surge in flooding, every five years between 2030 and 2045 as a result of climate change and global warming through greenhouse gas emissions.
The year 2017 has seen a significant increase in the frequency and the damage caused by inclement weather. Storms like Franklin, Irene, Harvey and Ophelia have all made headlines, and 2017's hurricane season is the only season on record in which three hurricanes each had an accumulated cyclone energy reading of over 40.
However, Manhattan island and the surrounding environs are particularly susceptible to rising sea levels, and if carbon emissions continue at their projected rate, the city could be facing major storm events routinely, to the point where the public infrastructure will no longer be able to support those in need of help. Just picture the kind of destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which cost $75 billion in total damages and killed 233 people. Now double that figure, and throw in a string of smaller hurricanes in between as well. Just imagine the harm that will do, and you can see why meteorologists are so concerned.
The paper notes: "Coastal flooding poses a major risk to New York City, which has nearly 49.7 million built square meters and 400,000 people living within the 100 yard floodplain ... Sea levels are expected to continue rising for at least the next several centuries, more than offsetting any potential decreases in storm-surge heights."
National Academy scientists employed computer models to project the exacerbation of global mean sea level rise and storm surges in New York City from records dating back to 1800 and extrapolated their data to estimate the sea rise and relevant effects until the year 2300. The researchers examined the frequency of catastrophic flood heights which measured over two meters (approximately seven feet) above the average tidal level for the region. This research is the first of its kind to compare data from three sources at the same time, including advanced climate models with high-resolution digital simulations, and probabilistic projections of sea-level rise. At the current mean global sea level, meteorologists predict a hurricane as devastating as Sandy occurring in NYC every 25 years. By 2030-2045, a Sandy-level hurricane could occur every five years instead.
Andra Garner, lead author of the study and a climate researcher at Rutgers University stated, " We know that storm surge flooding tends to be the deadliest aspect of many tropical cyclones. It is very important that we take action to mitigate future warming in order to avoid the worst-case scenarios of future sea-level rise, which would help to limit the increases we see in future flood risk. This work emphasises the need for adaptation planning for the New York region in order to protect the city's coastal infrastructure in both the near future and in centuries to come."
Jonathan Patz, a professor and director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has also expressed alarm at the potential public health dangers that a mean increase in flooding could present, such as "contaminated drinking water and risk of infectious diseases simply from wading in floodwaters, to asthma and other respiratory illness from exposure to mould and fungus during post-event cleanup when people return to their homes." Patz added, "The most important thing that we can do to avoid such devastating floods is to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases by pursuing a clean energy economy. That pursuit in itself offers enormous and immediate health benefits, from improved air quality from clean energy, and improved fitness levels from urban design to enhance walking or biking opportunities."
Patz's concerns about carbon emissions are well founded, and he is correct in his assessment that New York City cannot stay safe unless the Trump administration commits to real, environmental change, and takes a serious u-turn on a number of key energy policies. President Trump has made it clear that he values American fossil fuels, and has expressed a desire to regenerate America's ailing coal and oil industries. If the Republican government follows through with its plans, then a rise in global sea levels is almost inevitable, and flooding in and around Manhattan island almost certain.
So what steps can civic authorities, and ordinary New Yorkers, take to protect themselves against the risk of flooding? Well, one non-profit organisation claims to have the answer. The National Institute for Coastal and Harbour Infrastructure claims that an intricate system of underwater gates, capable of damming the dangerously rising waters around the inner city, could stem the tides. This vast contraption, which would function in a similar fashion to London's Thames Barrier except on a far larger scale, would use rotating hydraulic cylinders to redirect the flow of river water out towards the sea during low tide, or raise to act as a barrier against a rising tide coming in from the Atlantic.
The NICHI argues that constructing five key gates across the approaches to the harbour, (one in the upper East River; two barriers in the East Rockaway and Jones Inlets; and two across Fire Island Inlet and Moriches Inlet) would serve to protect all five boroughs of NYC, as well as northern New Jersey and most of the north of New Jersey, from serious flooding. The cost of such a project has been estimated at $25 billion, but could go on to save civic authorities untold hundreds of billions of dollars.
Only time will tell whether the authorities will heed the warnings of scientists and spend valuable taxes on safeguarding lives. Until then New Yorkers will have to pray that the weather stays calm, that the sea remains placid, and that a fair wind will continue to blow in from the east.