A 5-foot rise could affect nearly 300,000 people and 30 schools. Will the city adapt its infrastructure in time?

Low-lying, coastal cities are in hot water. As temperatures keep rising, so do sea levels, and that means that big chunks of major U.S. cities will be submerged in the centuries to come.  

Miami, for one, has been spending millions of dollars dealing with recurring flooding. And researchers estimate that it will be submerged in the next few decades. New Orleans is in a similar position.

New York City is also facing a significant threat: According to a 2015 report, the city could experience up to a 6-foot rise in sea levels in the 21st century. A new interactive visualization by Landscape Metrics illustrates exactly what that means for the city’s residents and its infrastructure. Via the website:* 

Advancing Waters leverages data from the 2010 Census, the National Elevation Dataset, and the NYC Selected Facilities and Program Sites datasets to visualize the potential impacts of sea level rise on New York City. Previous sea level rise maps have shown the areas of cities that could be affected by sea level rise in the future. However, our visualization goes one step further by providing information on what occupies lower lying areas. Our tool tracks the number of people, schools, transportation facilities, and waste treatment facilities at elevations up to 9’ (NAVD88).

At an elevation of five feet, for example, sea-level rise could impact over 308,990 people...

Landscape Metrics

… around 34 schools…*

Landscape Metrics

…around 80 transport (below, top), and 30 waste-management (below, bottom) facilities.* 

Landscape Metrics
Landscape Metrics

The website mentions some caveats to the above numbers:* 

While elevation broadly correlates with inundation risk, these maps should not be interpreted as being one-to-one equivalent to sea level rise impacts, as they do not account for tides, local urban features such as canals or stormwater infrastructure, or elevation differences between NAVD88 and current mean sea level. Storm events are also not factored in. For example, for a rise in sea level of 5', features shown here at elevations greater than 5' could potentially be inundated during high tides or storm events.

These images paint a disheartening picture of the future of cities. But keep in mind the words of Michael Berkowitz, the president of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, who recently told CityLab that, with respect to climate change, “cities are piloting different solutions to different problems all the time.” The hope now is that these city-driven solutions are readily accepted and implemented in time.

*NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect corrections in the methodology  of the visualization. 

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