Tips for Thought

In a city that never sleeps, where the skyline scrapes the heavens, and the hustle and bustle of life seems unstoppable, a silent, ominous force has been at work – the slow sinking of the New York City metropolitan area. A recent study conducted by scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Rutgers University has unveiled a concerning reality: New York City is gradually sinking at an average rate of 0.06 inches per year. 

This alarming revelation, published in the journal Science Advances, raises immediate concerns and underscores the city’s heightened vulnerability to flooding, a problem exacerbated by the recent declaration of a state of emergency due to heavy rain and flash floods.

Using advanced technology known as interferometric synthetic aperture radar, the researchers meticulously analyzed vertical land motion in the New York City area from 2016 to 2023. The results were unsettling. The land was sinking, and it was doing so disproportionately in areas where previous human interventions had made the ground more compressible, such as land reclamation and landfill construction.

The implications of this sinking phenomenon are far-reaching, as it directly influences the city’s resilience to flooding and natural calamities. Let’s look into the key findings of the study and the implications for the future.

Identifying the Sinking Hotspots

The study pinpointed specific areas within New York City that are experiencing the most significant subsidence. Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens was found to be sinking at a rate of 0.18 inches per year, while LaGuardia Airport was subsiding at a rate of 0.15 inches per year. In stark contrast, Woodside in Queens is actually rising at a rate of 0.27 inches per year, highlighting the uneven nature of this phenomenon.

Furthermore, the sinking trend extends beyond the city’s boundaries, affecting neighboring communities in New Jersey, such as Newark, Kearny, and Harrison. While the study did not provide precise sinking rates for these areas, it emphasized the grave threat posed to the entire metropolitan area by rising sea levels.

A Climate Change Conundrum

This sinking crisis occurs against the backdrop of an even greater existential challenge – climate change. Ongoing sea level rise, driven by global climate change, is making storm surges associated with severe weather events increasingly destructive. The combination of sinking land and rising seas creates a perfect storm of vulnerability for the city. With each passing year, New York City becomes more susceptible to flooding and the devastating impacts that follow in its wake.

The recent state of emergency declaration by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, in response to heavy rains and flash floods in Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn, serves as a stark reminder of the immediate dangers posed by this sinking phenomenon. Flash floods have become more frequent and severe, posing significant risks to the city’s residents, infrastructure, and economy.

Mitigation and Adaptation

In the face of this growing threat, the need for mitigation and adaptation strategies has never been more urgent. New York City is home to over a million buildings, and each additional high-rise constructed in coastal or waterfront areas contributes to future flood risks. Urban planning and development must prioritize resilience, taking into account both the sinking land and rising sea levels.

Investments in resilient infrastructure, such as seawalls, flood barriers, and improved drainage systems, are imperative to protect the city from flooding disasters. Furthermore, proactive measures like elevating buildings and retrofitting existing structures to withstand flooding are vital for long-term sustainability.

A Call to Action

The sinking of New York City is not a distant threat but a present reality. As climate change intensifies and the city continues to sink, the risk of flooding and calamity looms larger each day. This study serves as a clarion call for policymakers, urban planners, and residents to come together and take decisive action to safeguard this iconic metropolis.

It is time to recognize that New York’s future resilience hinges on how effectively it addresses this sinking crisis. In doing so, the city can not only protect its residents and assets but also serve as a model for other vulnerable coastal regions worldwide. The time to act is now, for the future of New York City, and countless others, hangs in the balance.

What can be done to contribute to the city’s preparedness for potential flooding and calamities?

  • Stay Informed. Stay updated on weather forecasts, flood alerts, and emergency information through local news, apps, and official government channels. Knowledge is your first line of defense.
  • Emergency Kit. Prepare an emergency kit with essential supplies, including non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, and a first-aid kit. Ensure it’s easily accessible in case of evacuations or power outages.
  • Flood Insurance. Consider purchasing flood insurance, even if you don’t live in a designated flood zone. Standard homeowners’ insurance typically doesn’t cover flood damage, so this extra protection can be invaluable.
  • Elevation Awareness. If you’re a homeowner in a vulnerable area, assess your property’s elevation. Elevate critical utilities and consider flood-resistant modifications to your home, such as sealing walls and installing sump pumps.
  • Evacuation Plan. Develop a family evacuation plan. Identify safe evacuation routes and establish a meeting point for your family in case you’re separated during an emergency.
  • Communication Plan. Establish a communication plan with family members, friends, and neighbors. Ensure everyone knows how to contact each other in the event of an emergency.
  • Reduce Flood Risks. Secure loose outdoor items, like patio furniture and garbage cans, to prevent them from becoming projectiles in strong winds. Clear drains and gutters regularly to facilitate proper drainage.
  • Community Engagement. Get involved in local community organizations and emergency response groups. Your participation can help strengthen neighborhood resilience and support those in need during crises.
  • Conservation Efforts. Conserve water and reduce your carbon footprint to help combat climate change. Every effort counts in mitigating the long-term effects of sea-level rise.
  • Education and Training. Consider taking emergency preparedness and first-aid courses. Being equipped with knowledge and skills can make a significant difference in a crisis situation.

By following these, you can contribute to the safety and resilience of both your family and your community in the face of New York City’s sinking challenge and the looming threat of flooding and calamity. Preparedness today can make all the difference when disaster strikes tomorrow.