On YouTube: SoMAS Lecture - Causes and Impacts of Storm Surge From Superstorm Sandy
Coastal Processes & Hazards - News

Stony Brook, NY, December 3, 2012 - During the hour-plus lecture "Storm Surge From Superstorm Sandy: Causes and Impacts" (on Friday, November 16, 2012), Stony Brook University (SBU) oceanography professor and storm surge expert Dr. Malcolm Bowman described how superstorm Sandy developed, how it lead to the enormous storm surge that devastated the region, what the precise impacts were, how it could have been even worse, and what Metropolitan New York should do to protect against future events. The talk, hosted by SBU School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) professor Christopher Gobler, was held in the Duke Lecture Hall at Chancellors Hall on the Stony Brook Southampton Campus.

Bowmam gave a similar Sandy talk as part of the New York State Marine Education Association's annual holiday dinner on Saturday, December 1, 2012 in Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, NY. New York Sea Grant (NYSG) is a longtime partner of NYSMEA, which promotes marine awareness and encourages the growth and exchange of instructional resources within the scientific, commercial, and educational communities.

"The New York Metropolitan region is vulnerable to coastal flooding and large-scale damage to city infrastructure from hurricanes, nor'easters, and other severe storms like Sandy," says Bowman. He reminds that much of this region lies less than three meters above mean sea level. Within this area - which, in total, includes an area of about 260 square kilometers -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.

For the last decade, NYSG has provided principal funding to Bowman and SBU's Storm Surge Research Group to work on storm surge science, coastal defense systems and policy issues related to regional protection of New York City and Long Island. The 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 started making predictions based on our understanding of extreme weather events, hurricanes and winter nor'easters." Through developing this, Bowman continues, "it was just a matter of time before New York City got walloped."

Bowman goes in-depth about Sandy, beginning with its origins in the Atlantic Ocean, saying, "Sandy was really not a classic hurricane - it became a hybrid between that and a extratropical nor'easter, which we usually experience in the winter."

He then discusses Sandy's evolution as it tracked up along the East Coast as well as the flood-prone areas along the New Jersey, metro New York and Long Island coastlines - those that were predicted to and sustained subsequent damage. As seen in the video, beginning after about 20 minutes in, pictures in Bowman's presentation serve to illustrate Sandy's aftermath in some of these areas - from Stony Brook in Long Island's Suffolk County to Breezy Point in Queens, NY.

Looking at a diagram of the tide gauge during Sandy for The Battery, the southernmost portion of Manhattan, Bowman says, "As the winds start blowing water around, they create waves. And the stronger the winds, the bigger the waves and faster they move. But also, the winds push water around. As that water pushes up against the coast, it builds up. And that's what we call the storm surge. Part of this storm surge is the waves, too, because if they break on the beach they can create another surge on top of the wind surge."

Sandy-related data provided by the Research Group - which was first reported via E-mail, the Research Group's Web site (http://stormy.msrc.sunysb.edu), and NYSG's Twitter and Facebook feeds during the storm - is also provided in the following NYSG news item from November 2, 2012, just a few days after the storm hit metro New York: "SBU Storm Surge Research Group Track Sandy, Correct Inaccuracies." The subsequent media inquires that Bowman and his colleagues from the Research Group fielded, some of which he mentions later in his talk, are explored in NYSG's November 16, 2012 news item, "In the News: Superstorm Sandy and the Discussion from SBU Experts that Followed."

A preventive measure to minimize the kind of coastal flooding the area faced with Sandy is, as Bowman suggests, sea walls. In addition to reviewing it during his talk, Bowman also discussed the idea of such barriers on the media circuit, including a Q&A session he had on the Regional News Network broadcast segment on November 12, 2012 entitled, "After the Storm - Could All The Flooding Have Been Avoided?" He also addressed the topic on PBS' November 20, 2012 broadcast of its News Hour program ("Protecting New York From Future Superstorms as Sea Levels Rise").

At the end of his SBU Southampton talk, Bowman reviews a number of key points. First and foremost, he says, "We can expect more extreme weather events in the future as climate change takes hold."

He also emphasizes that rising sea level means that future flooding events will be more severe than ever. "What we experienced during Hurricane Sandy will happen again and again."

"Now is the time for vision, political will and bold ideas to save our cities and communities as long as it is practical," adds Bowman. "For the next 150 years there are many treatments we can undertake to reduce the trauma of climate change and rising seas." But, he reminds that these are give-and-take sceanrios: "People want the protection that nourished berms will given them, but nobody wants to have their view blocked. That's the rub ... because you can hear the sea gulls skwaking and you can hear the waves on the beach, but you cannot see them because they're behind a big wall of sand. So, what it comes down to is this: 'Are people willing to trade loss of view for security?'"

For more  on the Research Group's science on superstorm Sandy, check out NYSG's related news items:

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