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Considered opinionWith more superstorms predicted, there’s a dream project to keep New York above water

By Molly Rubin

Published 30 October 2017

Five years ago, on 29 October 2012, the coasts of New York and New Jersey were devastated by a rare late-October superstorm. Superstorm Sandy killed seventy-two people in the United States and caused more than $70 billion in damage. Over the next thirty years, floods of 7.4 feet or more, which used to occur in the New York area once every 500 years and are now happening every 25, could strike as frequently as every five years. Scientists say that sea-level rise caused by climate change is the biggest factor. One big idea to prevent massive destruction from the next, inevitable superstorm: A constellation of giant underwater gates which would rise in New York Harbor and beyond when disaster looms.

Five years ago, on 29 October 2012, the coasts of New York and New Jersey were devastated by a rare late-October superstorm. A record storm-wind area, a full-moon high tide, and poor infrastructure combined to create a devastating storm surge and flooding.

Superstorm Sandy killed seventy-two people in the United States and caused more than $70 billion in damage.

Even as communities have rebuilt and businesses reopened, much of the coastline remains vulnerable if another record flood were to hit again – and this is more likely than not. City and state officials have been working to keep memories of Sandy from fading, and have been trying to drum up financial and public support for infrastructure projects which will fortify New York against future storms.

Molly Rubin writes in Quartz that one big idea to prevent massive destruction: A constellation of giant underwater gates which would rise in New York Harbor and beyond when disaster looms.

She continues:

The National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure (NICHI), a nonprofit group that advocates for coastal climate adaptation, is working to convince City Hall and the United States Army Corps of Engineers that a system of underwater gates, which can be raised and lowered to block surges, is the best way to protect the biggest city in the US from flooding. (The UK and Netherlands use similar systems: the Thames Barrier in London and Maeslantkering in Rotterdam.)

The NICHI makes the argument that though local protection projects are in development, there is no overall plan to connect them together on a regional scale. Outer harbor and coastal storm-surge barriers could protect all five boroughs of New York City, including its two major airports, as well as many parts of Long Island and northern New Jersey. If barriers like these were in place prior to Sandy, the group says, there would have been no flooding in most of the region.

The group is advocating for gates across the approaches to the harbor, which serves New York and New Jersey; one in the upper East River; two barriers in the East Rockaway and Jones Inlets; and two across Fire Island Inlet and Moriches Inlet. They argue that a regional flood-protection system, in conjunction with local projects, is the best “primary line of defense” against surges.

Installing gates to protect coastal areas, like the Sandy Hook community in New Jersey, which was virtually destroyed in 2012, could cost as much as $25 billion, and advocates of the plan say it’s worth the price because it could prevent hundreds of billions in potential damage.

The system would be costly and complicated, so the Army Corps is conducting a study of alternatives that might “better manage coastal flood risks in the region.”

….

Over the next thirty years, floods of 7.4 feet or more, which used to occur in the New York area once every 500 years and are now happening every 25, could strike as frequently as every five years, according to a new scientific study. The researchers say that sea-level rise caused by climate change is the biggest factor.

There is a consensus in the scientific community that global sea levels will rise over the next few hundred years. The only thing that is uncertain is exactly how much. The water level around New York City could rise up by 11 inches by 2030 and by more than 8 feet by 2100 if carbon emissions stay at current levels and the West Antarctic ice sheet melts. This means there will be a dramatic increase in the risk of storm surges from nor’easters and hurricanes.

Officials say New York Harbor locations such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Brooklyn Bridge Park could be seriously damaged if a storm like Sandy were to hit again.

“All of these parks are in jeopardy,” Bill Golden, president of the NICHI told the New York Times. “Unless we have a storm-surge barrier, these parks are not going to be protected.”

The effects of climate change mean that tropical storms that form in the Atlantic will be more powerful, for longer periods of time. Getting hit by another Sandy isn’t a question of if—just when.

Read the full article: Molly Rubin, “With more superstorms predicted, there’s a dream project to keep New York above water,” Quartz (28 October 2017)