Geologists have issued a stark warning that the weight of New York City’s towering skyscrapers is causing the city to sink further into its surrounding bodies of water.
The vast weight of over 1 million buildings, totaling a staggering 1.7 trillion pounds, is causing the Big Apple to gradually descend at a rate of 1 to 2 millimeters per year, with certain areas subsiding even faster.
While this gradual sinking may not appear significant at first glance, lead researcher and geologist Tom Parsons from the United States Geological Survey emphasizes that it poses a significant risk to the city’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Lower Manhattan, in particular, is at heightened risk, with concerns extending to Brooklyn and Queens as well, as highlighted in the study.
The research report states, “New York faces significant challenges from flood hazard; the threat of sea level rise is 3 to 4 times higher than the global average along the Atlantic coast of North America… A deeply concentrated population of 8.4 million people faces varying degrees of hazard from inundation in New York City.” Parsons and his team highlight the city’s past experiences with severe weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Ida in 2021, which caused casualties, heavy damage, and exposed the city’s vulnerabilities.
Parsons expresses concern that the future structural integrity of the city’s buildings could be compromised due to the combination of tectonic and anthropogenic subsidence, rising sea levels, and increasing hurricane intensity.
The repeated exposure of building foundations to saltwater can lead to the corrosion of reinforcing steel and the weakening of concrete, resulting in structural instability.
Furthermore, Parsons notes that the threat of severe storms is increasing due to the reduction of the natural wind shear barrier along the US East Coast, likely caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
This phenomenon is expected to lead to more frequent and intense hurricane events in the coming decades. Despite the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, Parsons highlights the insufficient preparedness of many real estate developments in New York City, with 90% of structures in expanded flood-risk areas not meeting floodplain standards.
The challenges faced by New York City are emblematic of coastal cities worldwide that are also experiencing subsidence, posing a shared global challenge in mitigating the growing hazard of inundation.
As the city continues to grapple with these pressing issues, proactive measures will be crucial to safeguarding its future against the increasing risks posed by sinking foundations, rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe storms.