Nav: Home

NYC risks future flooding during hurricanes

September 28, 2015

Whether or not a coastal city floods during a hurricane depends on the storm, tide and sea level, and now a team of climate scientists show that the risk of New York City flooding has increased dramatically during the industrial era as a result of human-caused climate change.

"We wanted to look at the impact of climate change on sea level and storm characteristics to see how that has affected the storm surge on the Atlantic coast, specifically in New York City," said Andra Reed, graduate student in meteorology, Penn State. "Hurricane Sandy was the motivating factor."

During Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012 most of New York City's transportation tunnels flooded and the storm surge breached the sea walls on the southern tip of Manhattan Island at Battery Park, flooding subway tunnels. The high storm surge was the result of rising sea level, high tide and the storm's force.

"Unfortunately, the storm surge record only goes back to the 1850s and we don't think that the record is reliable before the end of World War I," said Reed. "That's less than 100 years."

The researchers wanted to compare the levels of storm surge before human induced climate change -- before 1800 -- and in the time since, so they had to look elsewhere for a reliable record.

"Actual storm surge records don't go back far enough to establish a pre-industrial baseline," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology, Penn State. "So we used a combination of models and paleoclimate data to describe the longer-term storm surge history."

The researchers made use of proxy sea level records of sediments and foraminifera -- tiny ocean organisms -- developed by Ben Horton, professor, department of marine and coastal sciences, Rutgers University and Andrew Kemp, assistant professor of coastal processes and climate change, Tufts University, to characterize past changes in sea level.

Then they used simulated tropical cyclone histories spanning the past 1,000 years produced by Kerry A. Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology based on driving a model of tropical cyclone behavior with long-term climate model simulations. Finally, the tropical cyclone information was fed into a model of storm surge by Ning Lin, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Princeton University.

"In the pre-anthropogenic era, the return period for a storm producing a surge of 2.81 meters (9 feet) or greater like Sandy at the Battery would have been about 3,000 years," said Reed. "We found that, in the anthropogenic era, the return period for this same storm surge height has been reduced to about 130 years."

Prior to 2012, the largest recorded surge in New York City's Battery Park area was in 1938 when a nearly 10 foot surge flooded Long Island, N.Y., but only a half inch of water breached the sea wall at the Battery.

There are several factors behind increased storm surge and flooding from land-falling hurricanes. The strength of the surge is not just dependent on the storm's force, but also on the size of the storm, the state of the tides and sea level. While most homeowners listen to hear the category of the hurricane, in the case of Sandy, it was the overall size of the storm that caused the surge.

"Sea level is rising because of climate change," said Mann. "But climate change also appears to be leading to larger and more intense tropical storms."

The combination of more intense and larger hurricanes is what the researchers find to be leading to larger storm surges. Storms are likely to both cause flooding in low-lying areas like Long Island, Staten Island and beachfronts and to breach existing seawalls in areas like lower Manhattan.
-end-
Also working on this project was Jeffrey P. Donnelly, associate scientist geology and geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration supported this work.

Penn State

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...