New York City has nearly 2 trillion pounds of concrete and steel weighing down on the land it resides on. Experts are now saying that this troublesome mass could potentially aid in the future destruction of America’s largest city. Currently, New York City is sinking into the Hudson Bay at a rate of a few millimeters per year. With a global rise in sea levels, the Big Apple has become more susceptible to natural disasters and hurricanes than ever before. Despite the risks, geologists are saying that real estate developers are not taking the risks seriously and continue to build structures within zones that are susceptible to possible devastation in the future.
By Alex Mitchell; May 17, 2023
The city that never sinks?
New geological research warns that the weight of New York City’s skyscrapers is actually causing the Big Apple — whose more than 1 million buildings weigh nearly 1.7 trillion pounds — to sink lower into its surrounding bodies of water.
The city is plopping closer to the water at a rate of 1 to 2 millimeters a year, “with some areas subsiding much faster.”
While that may not seem significant to untrained eyes, the gradual descent makes NYC extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, according to lead researcher and geologist Tom Parsons of the United States Geological Survey.
Lower Manhattan is particularly at risk, and there is concern for both Brooklyn and Queens as well, according to the study.
“New York faces significant challenges from flood hazard; the threat of sea level rise is 3 to 4 times higher than the global average along the Atlantic coast of North America … A deeply concentrated population of 8.4 million people faces varying degrees of hazard from inundation in New York City,” he and his team wrote in the new report.
The city has already seen these harsh effects starting more than a decade ago.
“Two recent hurricanes caused casualties and heavy damage in New York City,” he wrote.
“In 2012, Hurricane Sandy forced sea water into the city, whereas heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ida in 2021 overwhelmed drainage systems because of heavy runoff within the mostly paved city.”
As awful as Sandy and Ida were — the more recent of the two hurricanes forcing people to abandon their cars on major roadways across the city — Parsons fears that the structural integrity of the city’s many buildings could be at risk in the future.
“The combination of tectonic and anthropogenic subsidence, sea level rise, and increasing hurricane intensity imply an accelerating problem along coastal and riverfront areas,” he wrote.
“Repeated exposure of building foundations to salt water can corrode reinforcing steel and chemically weaken concrete causing structural weakening.”
Not to mention, the threat of severe storms is more likely than it was years ago, according to Parsons.
Greenhouse gas “appears to be reducing the natural wind shear barrier along the US East Coast, which will allow more frequent high intensity hurricane events in the coming decades.”
Incredibly, many of New York’s real estate additions built since the devastation of Sandy are not taking the situation seriously enough, he added.
“New York City is ranked third in the world in terms of future exposed assets to coastal flooding and 90% of the 67,400 structures in the expanded post-Hurricane Sandy flood-risk areas have not been built to floodplain standards.
“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.”