On YouTube: Protecting The East Coast From Future Storms
Coastal Processes & Hazards - News

Stony Brook, NY, November 11, 2013 - In an interview with MyLITV video journalist Waldo Cabrera, Dr. Malcolm Bowman explains what U.S. East coast communities should do to prevent "Sandy-Like" damage. As the East Coast sinks and the water levels rise, if we do nothing, he predicts that in the future storms weaker than Sandy will cause greater damage to our communities.

Bowman is a Stony Brook University (SBU) School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) oceanography professor and storm surge expert. For over a decade, New York Sea Grant (NYSG) has provided principal funding to SBU SoMAS's Storm Surge Research Group, for which Bowman is the lead.

"At the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, we have a commitment not only to study the basic science of oceanography, the atmosphere and climate change, but also to apply that knowledge to problems that concern New Yorkers," says Bowman.

The Stony  Brook Storm Surge Research Group was initially formed to develop coastal early warning system for emergency response against flooding in Metropolitan New York. "When we started the Research Group," says Bowman, "we were making predictions based on our understanding of extreme weather events, hurricanes and winter nor'easters."

Bowman and his Research Group colleagues continue to work on storm surge science, coastal defense systems and policy issues related to regional protection of New York City and Long Island.

"We're trying to understand how these surges are created, how they're developed and the dangers they represent and the storms that produce them in the first place."

In their most recently NYSG-funded project, which began in February 2012, the Group is working towards creating a more accurate ensemble-based and wave setup-enabled storm surge model prediction system that could easily be adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service as well as regional emergency managers for regular and accurate predictions over the Northeast seaboard with a focus on Metropolitan New York and Long Island.

"We are bringing the best science there [in our efforts to] work with program managers, elected officials, and those whose job it is to make our communities safer and more resilient," says Bowman.

"It's a privilege to live on the ocean's edge, but we are beginning to understand now more and more clearly that it's becoming a dangerous place to live ... Sea level is rising on Long Island about one foot every 100 years. Now, that's not due to climate change, that's due to the last Ice Age. The actual East Coast is sinking, rather than the ocean comiming up. So, that's happening anyway. But now, with the increased burning of fossil fuels, we're warming the atmosphere. And that's going to accelerate ... sea level rise."

By the end of this century, Bowman says sea level may be three or four feet higher than it is now. "It doesn't sound like much, but it's going to make a huge difference when it comes to flooding. It will take storms that are a lot less severe than Sandy to do the same damage that Sandy did last year."

When it comes to those areas that are most vulnerable to flooding events from severe storms - including those on Long Island's western South Shore closer to New York City - Bowman says this: Although Long Beach has rebuilt its boardwalk since it sustained extensive damage in Superstorm Sandy, "they need to build up the sand dunes higher. The sand dunes need to be built up to the level of at least the boardwalk." A sand dune is, as Bowman describes, "a natural form of a wall. And, if it's got grasses growing on it, vegetation to hold it together, it can withstand a huge attack from monster waves. But, it's got to be done properly."

In addition, he adds that "The City is starting to think about storm surge barriers at the two entrances - Fire Island at the eastern end and Jones Inlet at the western end- to stop the water from coming around the back, because a lot of the flooding in Long Beach and elsewhere during Sandy occurred through what we call the back bays. So, the only way to [address that issue] is with large gates that will close for a few hours on emergency situations to keep that storm surge out."

This concept is not something new, Bowman says: "The cities of Stamford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts all have retractable barrier systems. They don't have sand dunes like we have here, but they've built up their sea walls and, during Sandy, the mayors of those three cities closed those gates and, guess what? There was no damage."

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