Friday, April 9, 2010

Is New York City prepared for its Katrina?

Diane Vacca in Chelsea Now (New York City) spending some time on a topic close to my heart – I served as a consulting editor to the New York City Panel on Climate Change: ….Last year Mayor Bloomberg convened the New York Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) to study the impacts of climate change on our infrastructure, and their projections are being used by the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which is comprised of 40 city, state and federal agencies and private companies. “Storm surge barriers could be a part of an eventual coordinated strategy, but right now they are just exploring all available options,” Farrell Sklerov of New York City Department of Environmental Protection told Chelsea Now.

These options include “soft” preventive measures like beefing up the natural buffers of the coastline by restoring dunes, adding sand to beaches and preserving wetlands. The public interest, however, is losing the battle to private investment and real estate development of the highly desirable and valuable waterfront. Other “hard” measures besides storm surge barriers include building seawalls and raising bulkheads.

…Vivien Gornitz of Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies is on the mayor’s NPCC. Gornitz and her colleagues are not “very enthusiastic” about storm surge barriers. In a private communication, Gornitz observed that since the barriers won’t protect the entire city, leaving parts of every borough except Manhattan exposed, “serious political arguments would arise as to where to place the barriers, if at all.” Even some of the protected areas could be exposed, she wrote, when, “depending on the height of the surge, the water could flow around or past the barriers at some of the proposed locations— so there would be issues of equity— why should some neighborhoods be protected and others not?” Gornitz asked. “

….Yet cities in 40 countries around the world, including London, Tokyo, Rotterdam and St. Petersburg have installed storm surge barriers of varying designs. The Thames barrier of rotating gates has been deployed about 114 times to protect London from flooding, according to Bowman. Closer to home, the barriers in Stamford, Conn., protected the city in 1992 while New York City was struggling to keep its head above water.

“Put it this way,” [Malcolm] Bowman [head of the Stony Brook Storm Research Group] told Chelsea Now, “there are going to be barriers in our future. Unless the city’s going to evacuate and move up to the hills,” he said, “they’re going to be there. Anybody who tells you otherwise doesn’t really understand what’s going to happen. The sea level’s going to rise.”

…Sea level rise has crept steadily upward throughout the 20th century. The rise in sea level is due mostly to the warming of the world’s oceans and melting mountain glaciers. Recent satellite images show that parts of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are thinning, and pieces of glaciers are falling into the ocean more rapidly, contributing to the accelerated rise in sea level since the 1990s. In a study for NASA five years ago, Cynthia Rosenzweig and Vivien Gornitz projected a sea level rise of 15 to 19 inches by 2050 in New York City, and “if Greenland’s melting continues to accelerate,“ said Malcolm Bowman, “it could rise, by the end of the century, by as much as six feet.”

A Category 3 hurricane inundation projection (Image by NYCDEP CU SUNY/HydroQual; GISS AOM; USACE; NWS; FEMA; NY; NJ; CT

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