Being a native New Yorker, it is imperative that we learn about the risks that come with continuous habitation in the Northeast. As a coastal city, one of the greatest threats comes from rising sea levels. New York City is built upon islands that were formed by the continental glaciers during the last ice age. While the city itself is built on metamorphic rock, most of Long Island is made up of debris deposited by the glaciers after their retreat. As a result, New York City is very susceptible to sea level changes, which include more flooding, storm surges, and eroded coastlines. Due to the warming of the Earth’s surface, we have experienced the rise in sea levels since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Recently, New York’s harbor tide gauges have shown a 5 to 6-inch increase in sea level since the 1960’s. By 2020 sea levels are estimated to increase another 2 to 5-inches, and a 12 to 15-inch increase by the end of the century. The changes in the sea level has significantly increased the frequency of storm surges and flooding. Unsurprisingly, the rise in sea level will also make efforts to mitigate the flooding harder. High sea levels will in turn raise the level of the water table, which will increase the amount of water that is held underground, and decrease the ground’s capacity to absorb surface runoff. A higher water table may also disrupt the function of subterranean infrastructure. As a result, septic or sewer systems will be unable to help redirect flood waters and standing water will give rise to public health issues in the city.
Another threat from rising sea levels is the accelerated erosion, inundation of the shoreline and the barrier islands of the coastline. Coastal erosion is a major concern of rising sea levels, especially in Long Island, where most of the land is composed of glacial deposits. The land is comparatively looser and erosion has greater effect especially on the beaches and the bluffs on the island. The increase of erosion will endanger many ocean front properties, especially when storm surges go beyond the shoreline and cause more property damage. Also at risk are the barrier islands located farther out like Long Beach, Jones Beach and Westhampton islands. These islands are very vulnerable to erosion, and the loss of these islands will make the rest of Long Island more susceptible to storm surges during severe weather. We have seen an example during the passage of Hurricane Sandy and the billions of dollars of infrastructure and property damage in the aftermath.
Flooding, storm surges, and eroded coastlines are only some of the risks associated with rising sea levels in New York City, and as a resident, it is alarming that the landscape may rapidly change over the next few decades. Solutions must be found to reduce rising sea levels, since the effects of global warming will only intensify as time goes on.