Jul 21 2015
Uh Oh. Two New Studies Warn Sea Level Rise Is Coming, and Fast.
Much of New York City's coastline is at risk from sea level rise.
Photo credit: Daniele Pieroni  via Creative Commons.
July 21, 2015
Uh Oh. Two New Studies Warn Sea Level Rise Is Coming, and Fast.

Category

Climate

Two studies out in recent days put New York City at a severe risk of climate change-enhanced flooding—and much sooner than previously thought.

2 Degrees, Surging Seas

The first is a comprehensive new review in the journal Science that shows that if the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F), sea levels will rise about 20 feet. Obviously, this could have dramatic impacts on  coastal cities across the globe—including our favorite coastal metropolis, New York City.

If the data is accurate, the authors suggest this could all happen by 2200.

Entire neighborhoods in NYC would be submerged—the East and West Village, TriBeCa, Chelsea, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Coney Island, Long Island City, and the Rockaways to name a few—and nearly 2 million people could be displaced.

A map built by the group Climate Control using this data, shows the impact that two degrees Celsius could have on America’s coastlines.

A significant portion of lower Manhattan would be underwater.

A significant portion of lower Manhattan would be underwater. Image via Climate Central.

Coney Island and the Rockaways would be completely submerged.

Coney Island and the Rockaways would be completely submerged. Image via Climate Central.

Help Me, Hansen

A bicyclist making his way past a stranded taxi on a flooded New York City Street as Tropical Storm Irene passes through the city in August, 2011.

A bicyclist making his way past a stranded taxi on a flooded New York City Street as Tropical Storm Irene passes through the city in August, 2011. Photo credit: AP

The second study is written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, along with 16 co-authors, and will soon be published in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. It posits that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous estimates, which will result in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.

According to Slate, the study focuses on

“a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate.”

Hansen gives no specific timeline, but suggests the feedback loop is likely to occur this century—that is, by 2100.

If correct, Hansen’s findings mean that ice is melting and seas are rising much faster than expected. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected closer to 3 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century. Even that amount that would mean serious consequences for New York City residents, and would put runways of JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports underwater.

As Slate’s Eric Holthaus puts it, “New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left.”

According to Hansen, this report requires “emergency cooperation among nations.” He continues:

“We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Time to batten down the hatches and get to work.

Much of New York City's coastline is at risk from sea level rise.
Photo credit: Daniele Pieroni  via Creative Commons.