Fighting Back the Waves in NYC
Coastal Processes & Hazards - News

Stony Brook, NY, May 23, 2011 - "Fighting Back the Waves," a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, offers insight into what New York City and other major cities around the world are doing (and not doing) to prepare for future inundation threats from extreme storm events and climate change.

Featured in the article is Malcom Bowman, Stony Brook University Oceanography professor and a storm surge expert. Bowman is also a member of The Stony Brook Storm Surge Research Group, which has been funded principally by New York Sea Grant (NYSG) since 2002 to work on storm surge science, coastal defense systems and policy issues related to regional protection of New York City and Long Island.

According to the Research Group, the New York Metropolitan region is vulnerable to coastal flooding and large-scale damage to city infrastructure from hurricanes and nor'easters. Much of this region - an area of about 100 square miles - lies less than three meters above mean sea level. Within this area lies critical infrastructure such as hospitals, airports, railroad and subway station entrances, highways, water treatment outfalls and combined sewer outfalls at or near sea level.

One way to address these issues of concern? Led by Bowman, NYSG-funded researchers at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences have studied the possibility of protecting the metropolitan New York City area from powerful storms through the use of storm surge barriers. Such barriers erected at several “choke points” (upper East River, Verrazano Narrows, Arthur Kill) would effectively seal off the area from incoming storm surge. A more ambitious scheme envisions a barrier/causeway from Sandy Hook, NJ to Far Rockaway, Long Island (click here for more information).

Stretching five miles across the approaches to New York Harbor in an area known as the New York Bight Apex, this barrier would serve double duty as a multi-line highway bypass between northern New Jersey and southern Long Island, including providing rapid access to JFK airport from points south. The causeway could also support a rapid-rail link between New Jersey and Long Island. This “outer-defense” would eliminate the necessity for both the Verrazano and Arthur Kill barriers, as well as protecting JFK airport, millions of residents in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and many communities in northern New Jersey.

This and other engineering concepts were presented at the international workshop “Against the Deluge: Storm Surge Barriers to Protect New York City”, held at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in March 2009. Conference proceedings are being edited by Stony Brook Storm Surge Group engineer Douglas Hill, soon to be published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (click here for more information).

In addition to being at risk for large, damaging storms that can produce unusually large storm surges resulting in severe flooding, the frequency and severity of these storms has the potential to be increased by the impact of global warming and sea level rise. Says Bowman, “The damage done by a 100 year storm now will equal the damage done by a 25 or 50 year storm later in the century if sea level rise accelerates.”

For more on Bowman's discussions on "Fighting Back the Waves" in New York City, see the links in the "Related Info" box on this page.

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a statewide network of integrated research, education, and extension services promoting the coastal economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources, is currently in its 40th year of “Bringing Science to the Shore.” NYSG, one of 32 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant College Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a cooperative program of the State University of New York and Cornell University. The National Sea Grant College Program engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training, and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources.

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