New York City is sinking, study says: Huge buildings, rising seas contribute to subsidence

The pressure from New York City’s massive buildings and skyscrapers is making the city more vulnerable to sink lower into the ocean, according to new research.

Three University of Rhode Island oceanologists and a researcher from the U.S. Geological Survey found that New York City, home to more than 8 million people, is sinking at a rate of 1 to 2 millimeters a year while sea level rises.

With more than 1 million buildings amassing nearly 1.7 trillion pounds, some areas in the metropolis were found to be subsiding much faster when scientists modeled the subsidence caused by the pressure that these structures exert on the Earth.

Parts of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island all showed signs of subsidence, the study said.

“As coastal cities grow globally, the combination of construction densification and sea level rise imply increasing inundation hazard,” a summary of the research said. “The point of the paper is to raise awareness that every additional high-rise building constructed at coastal, river, or lakefront settings could contribute to future flood risk, and that mitigation strategies may need to be included.”

Sea level rise and increasing storm intensity also contribute to the gradual sinking of land.

Sea levels ‘a clear threat to coastal cities’

Subsidence on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States is generally attributed to deglaciation, but the study’s researchers say that building mass can be factored into measurements, too.

Some areas of the city were found to have significantly greater subsidence rates compared to measurements that are closer to normal for the region’s post-glacial deformation.

“This deformation is consistent with internal consolidation of artificial fill and other soft sediment that may be exacerbated by recent building loads, though there are many possible causes,” a statement said.

Global sea level projections show “a clear threat to coastal cities,” the study states, with an expected increase worldwide of 7.9 to 23.6 inches by 2050.

On U.S. coastline, sea levels are projected to rise 10-12 inches, on average, by 2050, according to a 2022 report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“New York is emblematic of growing coastal cities all over the world that are observed to be subsiding, meaning there is a shared global challenge of mitigation against a growing inundation hazard.”

Source: USA Today

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