Like most American cities that border an ocean, New York City is at risk for flooding due to sea level rise.
Sea level rise not only threatens city infrastructure and the livelihoods of New Yorkers — it also poses a huge economic threat to the city’s five boroughs, according to Daniel Zarrilli, the city’s Chief Resilience Officer.
“There’s coastal real estate at risk, consequences to job creation, and the natural impact of climate on the lowest income residents in New York City and around the globe. People might have to move or migrate,” he told Business Insider. “It’s pretty profound when you think about the types of economic impacts we’ll see from that. And it will be disruptive.”
The most recent reminder to New Yorkers about the risks of flooding was Hurricane Sandy, which killed at least 147 people in the Northeastern United States, Canada, and the Caribbean in 2012. In New York City, the storm, which had a cyclone over
a thousand miles in diameter, caused water to rush over Staten Island, the Rockaways, and downtown Manhattan near Wall Street.
The water flooded several subway lines, many of which are still undergoing repairs. Since many buildings lost power, the city lost at least $US25 billion in estimated business activity, too. The storm also damaged thousands of homes and an estimated 250,000 vehicles.
Even after the region spent $US61 billion on Sandy relief efforts, New York City’s housing, subways, and roads are still vulnerable to rising seas and other effects of climate change. (Recent research has linked global warming to Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events.)
By 2050, NYC’s average temperature is expected to rise between 4.1 and 6.6°F, and annual precipitation is expected to increase between 4% and 13%, which could exacerbate sea level rise. Dangerous waves are also now 20 times more likely to overwhelm the Manhattan seawall than they were 170 years ago, according to a recent study.
A child born today will likely see the the waters surrounding Manhattan rise up to six feet higher in Manhattan in their lifetime, according to a 2015 report.
In the New York metropolitan area alone, there are 48 major transit facilities at 10 feet or less above sea level. All of the city’s four airports also are at risk of flooding. Depending on its strength, a future storm could singlehandedly cost the East Coast region between $US1.13 billion and $US283 billion, according to a report from the University of Maryland.
Here’s what New York City’s floodplain could look like in the 2020s (The blue and green shading indicates areas that are dry today):
And here it is in 2100:
Even though scientists have spent the past several decades studying the risks of climate change, there is scepticism within the federal government. In June, President Donald Trump announced that the US will exit the Paris Agreement, which aims to mitigate rising temperatures and sea levels on a global scale. On August 15, he also signed an executive order that will roll back building standards for government-funded infrastructure projects in flood-prone areas.
In response to the risks, New York City is working on implementing a climate resiliency plan, which was unveiled in 2013. Zarrilli said the plan includes strategies like building a $US335 million floodwall in lower Manhattan, revising building codes, and installing bioswales that channel excess water to contained green areas.
“The risks of climate change aren’t something that’s happening 100 years from now to someone else. We’re sitting in New York City. We’ve seen the impact. It’s happening here and now, and we need to continue to address the risks,” he said.
“And when we’re a coastal city with 520 miles of shoreline, the risks are pretty acute.”
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