Sep 7, 2016

This is New York in the not-so-distant future

New York, NY
USA
by
Andrew Rice
,
New York Magazine
A speculative rendering showing what a hundred-year storm could briefly do to the Meatpacking District decades from now, when sea levels have risen several feet. Photo-illustration: MDI Digital
A speculative rendering showing what a hundred-year storm could briefly do to the Meatpacking District decades from now, when sea levels have risen several feet. Photo-illustration: MDI Digital

Global sea level rise is one of the best established consequences of climate change. Over the past century, global average sea level has risen by about 8 inches (0.19 meters).[1] Since 1992, the rate of global sea level rise measured by satellites has been roughly twice the rate observed over the last century, providing evidence of acceleration.[2][3] Sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities, especially along the the Atlantic seaboard.[2]

Klaus Jacob, a German professor affiliated with Columbia’s University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is a geophysicist by profession and a doomsayer by disposition... Jacob believes most people live in an irrational state of “risk denial,” and he takes delight in dispelling their blissful ignorance...

For the past 15 years or so, Jacob has been primarily preoccupied with a[n]...existential danger: the rising sea. The latest scientific findings suggest that a child born today in this island metropolis may live to see the waters around it swell by six feet, as the previously hypothetical consequences of global warming take on an escalating — and unstoppable — force. “I have made it my mission,” Jacob says, “to think long term.” The life span of a city is measured in centuries, and New York, which is approaching its fifth, probably doesn’t have another five to go, at least in any presently recognizable form. Instead, Jacob has said, the city will become a “gradual Atlantis.”

The deluge will begin slowly, and irregularly, and so it will confound human perceptions of change. Areas that never had flash floods will start to experience them, in part because global warming will also increase precipitation. High tides will spill over old bulkheads when there is a full moon. People will start carrying galoshes to work. All the commercial skyscrapers, housing, cultural institutions that currently sit near the waterline will be forced to contend with routine inundation. And cataclysmic floods will become more common, because, to put it simply, if the baseline water level is higher, every storm surge will be that much stronger. Now, a surge of six feet has a one percent chance of happening each year — it’s what climatologists call a “100 year” storm. By 2050, if sea-level rise happens as rapidly as many scientists think it will, today’s hundred-year floods will become five times more likely, making mass destruction a once-a-generation occurrence. Like a stumbling boxer, the city will try to keep its guard up, but the sea will only gain strength