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Climate Change in the New York City Metro Area

There is no doubt that the New York City metro area became one of the richest and most famous cities on Earth due to its access to the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean. The New York Harbor is one of the most perfect natural harbors on Earth for trade. As the climate begins to change, the water that once turned New York into a metropolis, may be the thing that tears the city down. From the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley to the Jersey Shore and Long Island beaches to the tunnels underneath the city, nowhere in the metro area is safe from the effects of climate change.

Beginning at the northernmost extent of the New York City metro area, we will look at the changing climate in the Hudson Valley. The Hudson Valley is situated just north of the Bronx and northern New Jersey including Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. These counties are characterized by the lower Hudson River and Catskill mountains. It is known for having beautiful forests and woodlands, many small towns (mainly on the banks of the Hudson River), and agricultural areas. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released a summary of the main effects of climate change on the Hudson Valley. First and foremost, we will see increase in temperatures. Most people living in this area have noticed the lack of snow days and increase in heat waves we’ve had in recent years. This will become a more common reality for this area. The study finds that we can expect by 2050 about 50 days of temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. Agriculture in this region can benefit from shorter winters and longer growing seasons, but crops grown here are not meant to withstand consecutive days of extreme heat in this manner. This will cause damage to those agricultural regions in the Hudson Valley, which means no more pumpkin picking or apple picking in the fall. Also, the Hudson River is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via New York Harbor. This means that when the sea level rises in the ocean, so will the river. At times of severe rainfall and during hurricanes, the Hudson can burst its banks. As the sea level rises, the Hudson will inundate deeper into these river side towns causing billions more in damage. According to the study, since 1900 sea levels in the lower Hudson have risen by 15 inches and we could see another 4-10 inches through the 2020s and 9-27 inches by the mid-century. This could flood communities like Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Sleepy Hollow, and Tarrytown. Also, it will destroy the Metro-North’s Hudson line which runs along the banks of the Hudson. These tracks are also utilized by several Amtrak lines including the Adirondack to Montreal, Empire Service to Niagara Falls, Maple Leaf to Toronto, and Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. This would sever a vital rail connection between New York City and many major cities to the north. Another problem here is rainfall. Climate change will cause more heavy rainfall events separated by periods of drought. According to the study, major rainfall events have increased 74% between 1950-1979 and 1980-2009. These major rainfall events can overwhelm sewage systems and lead to flash flooding from the Hudson. Also, being that this area is mountainous due to the Catskills we can see increased risk of mudslides and rockslides. Next, we will begin moving south and east from the Hudson Valley and New York City.

Outside of the Hudson Valley and New York City we will find New Jersey and Long Island. These are some of the most populated counties outside of the 5 boroughs. The town of Hempstead on Long Island has a population of almost 800,000 according to the 2020 Census exceeding even Buffalo upstate New York. Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth are the most populated cities in New Jersey, and all sit in the New York City metro area. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has also released a study on climate change. This region will see the same effects as the Hudson Valley. The effects of sea level rise will be felt much more here. Northeastern New Jersey is covered in water with the Newark Bay (home of the vital Port of New York & New Jersey), Passaic River, Hackensack River, Raritan River, and Hackensack Meadowlands (wetlands). All these bodies of water completely inundate nearby towns during more frequent major rainfall events. The Port of New York & New Jersey is the busiest port on the East Coast, but it won’t be able to operate if it is underwater and neither will Newark Airport which sits on Newark Bay. Also, the Jersey Shore is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, which gave it its famous beaches. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 eroded the beaches, and completely demolished the boardwalks on the Jersey Shore. More frequent hurricanes and sea levels rising  means no more trips down to the Jersey Shore for spring break and summer. Long Island is also very famous for its beaches. These beaches will see the same effects as the Jersey Shore. The beaches sit on the Long Island barrier islands and are very susceptible to flooding. Storm surge and heavy rainfall events overwhelm drainage systems on Long Island and erode the beaches. Also, warming ocean temperatures can cause an increase in the intensity and duration of toxic algae blooms in Long Island waters according to the NYSDEC. These algae can pose health risks to animals and people through ingestion, skin contact, or inhalation. Long Island also depends on groundwater for its fresh drinking water. The rising sea levels of the salty Atlantic Ocean can seep into the groundwater supply and contaminate it. This will cripple the water supply for Long Island. This combined with the continued expanding population is a recipe for disaster. Now, we will move on to the center of the entire region.

There is no doubt that the lifeblood of this region is the 5 boroughs of New York City. Just as its surrounding neighbors, the city is no doubt sensitive to the effects of climate change. We will see the same effects in the 5 boroughs: heat waves, less snow, massive rainfall events, droughts, and sea levels rising. As mentioned before when discussing the Hudson Valley, we will be seeing more days reaching above 90 degrees. New York City is covered in concrete which has a lower albedo and thus absorbs more solar radiation. This leads to the urban heat island effect. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Daytime temperatures in urban areas are about 1–7°F higher than temperatures in outlying areas and nighttime temperatures are about 2-5°F higher.” Heatwaves in the city can lead to heat strokes, especially in children and the elderly. Also, the increase in fan and air condition usage can put massive strain on the power grid leading to blackouts. Massive rainfall events in recent years have caused flooding in the city. The Rockaways are seeing more and more frequent flooding events. Also, the subway lines, which are in a deteriorative state, are constantly inundated with water further exacerbating the damage. New Yorkers are feeling the effects of this with lines not running on weekends and evenings, less train frequency and major delays. It has gotten to a point where the MTA has to cut off service on some lines for months at a time to do repairs. Another form of transportation affected is air travel. Just like Newark Airport, the other two New York area airports will not be able to function with higher sea levels. Laguardia Airport sits on the East River and JFK Airport sits on Jamaica Bay. According to an interactive sea level rise map by the New York City Dept of City Planning, by the mid-century both airports could see flooding during high tides, which will cause major delays in air travel.  Rising sea levels and flooding will not only affect transportation, but also some of our most famous landmarks that tourists come from all over the world to see. Liberty Island and Ellis Island are situated in New York Harbor. They are very small islands and will easily be overtaken by water during storm surges and in the event of rising sea levels. Wall Street, Battery Park, and the World Trade Center are all in Lower Manhattan, which is the first part of Manhattan to be hit by flooding events and storm surges. In the outer boroughs, Rockaway Beach in Queens, Coney Island in Brooklyn with its famed amusement park, Midland Beach on Staten Island, and Orchard beach in the Bronx may all be inaccessible due to constant flooding during high tides.

As you can see the entire New York City metro area is not as strong as we may think it is. There is no city humans can build that can withstand mother nature. The area must adapt to the changing world or mitigate the effects that climate change will have on the region. This metro area is vital to the northeast, the United States, and the rest of the world. Some consider New York City the center of the world, but if we don’t do something about climate change, New York City will just become a city of legend like Atlantis. The region has already taken some steps in the face of changing climate, especially rising sea levels, but will it be enough? Only time will tell as the decades go by, the Earth continues warming, and the Atlantic Ocean continues to rise to give the region back to nature.


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