Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new report details the harrowing consequences of sea level rise.
For the largest city in the U.S., the very real consequences of global climate change are becoming harder to ignore. Since 1900, sea level in the New York City metro area has risen by a foot. That pace, which is already well above the global average, is quickening. A new report by the Regional Plan Association, an organization that examines economic health, infrastructure, and sustainability, details exactly what parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are most at risk if the current rate of sea level rise continues. Via the study:
The New York metropolitan area, with 23 million residents and some 3,700 miles of tidal coastline, faces a severe threat from sea level rise, yet relatively little has been done to address the inevitable permanent inundation of buildings, infrastructure and communities.
In just 15 years, sea levels in the Tri-State area could increase by one foot. By 2080, it could go up to three. And by the beginning of the next century, six. The study breaks down the perils of each increment for different parts of the region:
At one foot
Overall, around 60 square miles, where 19,000 people live and 10,000 work, will be under water. But the impacts will initially be neither “immediate nor dramatic”—it will creep up on the residents in New York and surrounding areas. Areas around Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay, and the eastern shore of Staten Island will start seeing adverse effects first. Broad Channel in Queens will be at risk of inundation. And parts of LaGuardia Airport will see temporary floods.
Over in Long Island, those who live near the bay will face permanent flooding. So will Yonkers, Piermont, and Stony Point in the Hudson Valley. In New Jersey, most of Teterboro Airport could become permanently flooded.
And that’s only the beginning.
At three feet
By the time the water level rises to this level, the consequences will be plainly visible. Periodic flooding will worsen, and the water will start spreading out, where it will affect subway service, railways, and industrial infrastructure. Water will seep into large swaths of the New Jersey Meadowlands, threatening the Secaucus rail station and Giants Stadium.
Here’s a map of LaGuardia airport showing its at-risk parts at one (dark blue), three (medium blue), and six (light blue) feet of sea level rise:
In addition, portions of the Metro-North Hudson rail line will come under risk of flooding. And parts of Bridgeport and New Haven in Connecticut will be permanently under water. In total, 133 square miles will be submerged, displacing 114,000 current residents and disappearing 62,000 jobs.
At six feet
At this point, the coastline would be completely transformed, and what had been a suburban issue will become a “force of destruction in our urban centers,” the report ominously predicts. In total, around 280 square miles will be lost, doing away with 20 percent of the power generating capacity in the region. About 619,000 residents might lose their homes and 362,000, their jobs. The poorest communities tend to be the hardest hit by climate change, and New York City metro will be no different. Around 12,000 units of public housing are at risk when sea level rises to this degree.
Here are maps showing what’s at risk at one foot (dark blue), three feet (medium blue) and six feet (light blue):
Areas around JFK, East New York:
Meadowlands, New Jersey:
Long Island and surrounding areas:
The “good news,” such as it is, is that there are some flood protection projects already proposed or underway in this megaregion. The most glitzy is the “dryline” project—a 10 mile park-slash-flood defense megastructure running along New York City’s waterfront designed by starchitect Bjarke Ingels. But while undoubtedly important, many of these can’t offer long-term protection, the report argues.
Certainly, more can be done, and cities like New York might actually have the will—and financial backing—to do it. “New York has such a concentration of wealth and assets that I expect we will invest to defend the region from sea level rise and flooding, and there’s already movement in that direction,” Benjamin Strauss, vice president for seal level and climate impacts at the environmental research consortium Climate Central told The New York Times.
But at the end of the day, climate change is a enormous planet-wide problem that requires a coordinated approach at various levels of government, a global commitment to reduce carbon emissions, and special attention to the low-income and vulnerable populations most likely to be displaced. Via the study:
We are past the point where sea level rise can be ignored in the hope that future technology will provide an easy solution.
And we’re certainly long past the point where it can be denied.