New York City Could Face Damaging Floods ‘Every Five Years’ in a Warmer Climate
By Daisy Dunne
Floods that reach more than 2.25 meters (approximately 7.4 feet) in height—enough to inundate the first story of a building—could dramatically increase in frequency as a result of future sea level rise and bigger storm surges, the study suggests. Such severe floods would be expected only around once in every 25 years from 1970 to 2005.
The findings make it clear that "[flood] adaptation measures are critical to protect lives and infrastructure in a changing climate," the lead author told Carbon Brief.
Like many coastal cities in the U.S., New York is vulnerable to flooding driven by storm surges from tropical cyclones, as well as sea level rise. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy overwhelmed the city with floodwater, killing 43 people and causing close to $50 billion in damages.
Storm surges occur when a storm weather system moves from the sea to the land. As the weather system moves over the sea surface, its low pressure center pulls up the surface of the water. Then, as the storm blows towards land, wind pushes the sea towards the coast, hitting the shore with large waves.
The height of these waves is dependent on the underlying sea level, the tide, and the size of the tropical cyclone. As sea levels rise, a storm surge has more chance of breaching coastal flood defenses.
During Hurricane Sandy, the combined impact of the storm surge and a high tide saw sea levels reach a record height of 3.44 meters (approximately 11.3 feet).
Flooded Battery Park Tunnel after Hurricane SandyTimothy Krause / Flickr
To understand how climate change could affect the future risk of coastal flooding in New York, researchers used models to simulate the behavior of future tropical storms, as well as sea level rise in its surrounding waters.
Using a collection of global climate models,, the researchers gathered information about factors that impact the behavior of tropical storms. These factors include air temperature, humidity, sea surface temperature and wind speed.
The researchers used this information to create "synthetic storms," or the storms that are likely to exist in a warmer climate, explained Dr. Andra Garner, a scientist from Rutgers University in New Jersey and lead author of the new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She told Carbon Brief:
"Using this information, we can generate a set of storms whose behavior is consistent with a range of different climates. Each of these storms has their own unique set of characteristics, such as wind speed and pressure field."
The researchers then used a storm surge model (known as ADCIRC) to generate the expected surge that each synthetic storm could create at The Battery, a public park located at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
The results suggest that storms are likely to become larger and more powerful in the coming decades. (Carbon Brief has previously explored the link between climate change and tropical storms.)
However, a rise in storm intensity may not necessarily affect the size of storm surges, said Garner. This is because changes in ocean conditions in a warmer climate could cause tropical storms to shift eastwards, away from New York City. She said:
"As we move from the modern time period into the future, we find that storms tend to become more intense, while simultaneously shifting somewhat eastward, away from New York City. The increase in storm intensity is compensated by the shift in storm tracks. That is, changing storm surge heights alone do not have a great impact on increasing the future flood risk for the city."
Sea level rise
However, sea level rise is likely to affect the size of future storm surges, the results suggest. Gardner said:
"The bad news is that when sea level rise is added into the picture, it becomes clear that overall flood heights will become drastically worse in New York City in coming years."
The chart below shows projected sea level rise in New York from 2010 to 2300. Yellow shows projected sea level rise under an intermediate emissions scenario (RCP4.5), while orange shows projected sea level rise under a high emissions scenario where global greenhouse gas emissions aren't curbed (RCP8.5).
In addition, the researchers used existing scenarios that considered the potential impact of changes to the Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) (red, maroon).
The latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated the contribution of the AIS to sea level rise could be -8 to 15cm under RCP8.5 by 2100 (pdf).
However, the authors of the new study noted that recent research using "a coupled ice sheet and climate dynamics model that includes marine ice sheet instability, ice shelf hydrofracturing, and marine ice-cliff collapse mechanisms suggests that the AIS could contribute more than 1m by 2100, and more than 10m by 2300, under RCP8.5."
Although there is "deep uncertainty" around the contributions of the Antarctic ice sheet to sea level rise, the authors wrote, "the potential for large contributions should not be neglected in risk assessments."
Projected sea level rise in New York City from 2010 to 2300. Yellow shows projected sea level rise under an intermediate emissions scenario (RCP4.5), while orange shows projected sea level rise under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5).Garner et al. (2017)
The results suggest that, under the high emissions scenario, sea levels close to New York are likely to rise by 0.55 to 1.4 meters (approximately 1.8 to 4.6 feet) between 2010 and 2100. If the possible effects of Antarctic ice melt are considered, sea levels could rise by 0.88 to 2.5 meters (approximately 2.9 to 8.2 feet) by 2100.
The researchers combined their measurements of projected sea level rise and projected storm surge heights in order to estimate the total height of floods in New York in the coming decades.
The results showed that flood heights in New York from 2080 to 2100 could be 1.4 meters (approximately 4.6 feet) above the average flood heights witnessed from 1970 to 2005, when an average is taken from all the scenarios of future sea level rise.
And serious floods, which exceed more than 2.25 meters (approximately 7.4 feet) in height, could dramatically increase in frequency over the coming decades, Garner explained:
"When rising sea-levels combine with storm surge heights, flooding becomes much worse over time. For example, a 2.25 meter flood height, which occurred on average once every 500 years before 1800 in our work, and occurred once every 25 years on average from 1970 to 2005 in our study, could occur once every five years by 2030 to 2045 according to our results."
Such floods could pose a significant risk to human safety, she added.
"A flood height of 2.25 meters is a significant enough flood to potentially inundate the first story of many buildings. Post-Sandy, some infrastructure and planning is almost certainly trying to account for future flooding situations, but a flood of this magnitude in New York would certainly still have significant impacts for many aspects of the city."
Preparing the floodgates
The findings should prompt city planners to face up to the challenges posed by climate change, said Garner:
"Studies like this make it clear that adaptation measures are critical to protect lives and infrastructure in a changing climate. We can't pretend that these kinds of risks aren't growing in our changing climate, because studies such as this make it poignantly clear that they are."
The study is "very useful" said professor Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in the study, but it doesn't include "some things of importance" such as the added impact of high tides and the risk of mid-latitude storms.
Also, looking as far out into the future as 2300 means the study relies on uncertain assumptions about factors such as future greenhouse gas emissions, he told Carbon Brief:
"The paper assesses coastal flood risk over the next three centuries, but these risks depend hugely on scenarios as to how factors such as emissions and population size change. This makes me quite uncomfortable: the assumptions are huge and understated."
It's also worth noting that other nearby cities, such as Hoboken in New Jersey, are "every bit or more vulnerable" than New York City, Trenberth added.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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