Friday, December 30, 2011

A tide of concern is rising over risk of storm surges in New York City

Terese Loeb Kreuzer in the Villager: A horror movie could not have been more frightening or more graphic. Hurricane-force winds. Sea levels rising 13 feet over the course of an hour. Thirty-foot storm surges destroying every manmade object in their path. Transportation systems flooded. No potable drinking water. Destroyed ecosystems. Beaches and barrier islands washed away. Two to three million people having to be evacuated.

This is what might happen if New York City were hit by a hurricane. Some of this is what has happened from time to time in the past but a future storm would probably be even worse. Climate change has already caused sea levels to rise even without the added stress and dangers of a storm.

According to David Bragdon, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, “By midcentury, New York City’s average temperatures will rise by three to five degrees Fahrenheit, and sea levels could rise by more than two feet. By the end of the century, the city’s climate may be more similar to North Carolina than present-day New York City and sea levels could rise by as much as four-and-a-half feet.”

Much of the metropolitan area lies less than three feet above sea level and millions of people live close to New York City’s 520 miles of coastline.

On Dec. 16 in a room packed to overflowing, the grim impact of climate change on New York City was depicted by expert after expert at a City Council hearing convened by James F. Gennaro, chairperson of the Committee on Environmental Protection, and Michael Nelson, chairperson of the Committee on Waterfronts. State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried testified that their districts are particularly vulnerable. Duane’s district includes the Hudson River waterfront from Vestry St. to W. 70th St. and the East River waterfront between E. 14th and E. 30th Sts. Gottfried’s district runs along the Hudson River waterfront from W. 14th St. to 59th St.

“Significant portions of our districts lie just above sea level and are therefore at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges,” they said. “The high density of human population, infrastructure and enormous monetary and cultural value of existing buildings make adaptation to or mitigation of flooding impossible.”...

A woman reading in the Battery Park. New York City 2005, on a bench that is higher than many areas of the coast in Manhattan and Brooklyn, shot by Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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