Just six weeks before Hurricane Sandy struck, The New York Times highlighted New York City’s vulnerabilities in a future of rising sea-levels due to climate change. In 2009, Mayor Bloomberg appointed Dr. Klaus Jacob, a Columbia University Professor of Engineering to a panel on Climate Change. He recently appeared on the Morning Show Up with Chris Hayes, where he was asked about a 2011 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Report, assessing the impacts of a natural disaster like a tidal surge produced by Hurricane Sandy.
In this study Dr. Jacobs reported that climate change and rising sea levels will significantly increase the flooding levels by coastal storm-surges. The projections are that by 2080 100-year floods (i.e., a 1% annual probability of occurrence) would increase by 3- to 10-fold. Whether the total number of storms would increase or not is uncertain but their intensities would increase with severe flooding of coastal areas including a large part of New York City’s ground transportation systems which are either at grade level or below sea level. Dr Klaus predicted the flooding of the subway and East River tunnels in the report and that is what happened during the storm-surge of Sandy.
The NYSERAD report made several recommendations in this report (see Chapter 9, Section 9.4.1) which included the following adaptation strategies:
- Construct levees, sea walls, flood gates and pumping facilities to protect the low-lying areas, but this would be only a temporary fix.
- Change the land use patterns to move people and businesses out of severely prone flood zones.
- Raising commuter rail tracks and right of ways where possible.
- Sealing ventilation grates of NY City subway system where potential for flooding is severe.
- Design gates at subway and road/rail tunnel entrances or extend the elevation where possible.
- Retreating and re locating critical systems out of or above flood zones.
- Raising bridge landings along shore lines for highways, roads and rail systems.