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News of Climate Change

New York City Faces Higher Risk for Extreme Floods
30th September 2015 |
Scientists say global warming will be the primary cause of future sea-level rise. After Hurricane Sandy, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg led an unprecedented effort to safeguard the city from the effects of climate change.

Researchers wrote: they have seen more intense storm with a greater ability to produce high storm surges at The Battery in NYC during the anthropogenic era than during the pre-anthropogenic era. In addition, climate change is leading to larger and more intense tropical storms. The height that a storm surge can reach is dependent on the underlying sea level, the tide, and scale of the tropical cyclone. Using geological records from over 1,000 years of past sea levels from nearby New Jersey’s shore on the Atlantic, the synthetic storm surges modeled were each based off of the sea level’s position when the storm occurred. Referring to a flooding event on the scale of Superstorm Sandy, Mann says that “we estimate that that shouldn’t happen a couple of times every 3,000 years”. Hurricane Sandy is the second biggest costliest hurricane in the history of the US, causing at least 233 deaths across the United States, the Caribbean, and Canada, and millions of dolars in damages. The results of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So as sea levels rise, a storm surge has more chance of breaching coastal flood defences. This means that there’s a higher likelihood for flooding in regions like New York City.

The largest recorded surge in New York City’s Battery Park area was in 1938, before 2012, when an nearly 10 foot surge flooded Long Island, N.Y., but only a half inch of water breached the sea wall at the Battery. Holland said part of the problem is that storms, including Sandy which had relatively low wind speeds, are getting larger and sticking around longer. They found that average flood heights increased 1.2 metres between 850 and 2005. The paper could inform rebuilding of areas devastated by Sandy, says Hawkes. “It’s an order of magnitude, really”, says Reed. She admits that nor’easters are very different storms than hurricanes, so a definite connection can not be made. New York City is vulnerable to rising seas and larger, more powerful storms that result in more frequent and intense flooding and what was once a 500-year flood prior to human-induced climate change now occurs on average once every 24 years. “The storm surge heights in the tails of the anthropogenic distributions are significantly greater than the storm surge heights in the tails of the pre-anthropogenic storm surge distributions”, the paper concluded.

The impact of rising sea levels isn’t gradual, notes Prof Kevin Trenberth from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Areas like the Rockaways, Staten Island, are just not sustainable”. The research team used proxy sea-level records, climate models, and sea-rising simulations that told the tale of storms and surges in prehistoric eras across the North Atlantic. “As climate continues to change and temperatures continue to climb, it would be logical to expect that flood heights for New York City will continue to rise, and the most extreme flooding events will continue to become more common”.

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