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Research Indicates Varying Sinking Rates Across New York City, Heightening Flood Risks

Recent findings indicate that different regions of New York City are experiencing uneven rates of sinking, potentially increasing local flood dangers.

Published in Science, the research, conducted by teams from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Rutgers University in New Jersey, reveals that on average, the city is descending at approximately 1.6 millimeters (0.06 inches) annually. However, the subsidence rate isn’t uniform across the city, with some areas even witnessing an upward movement.

The researchers utilized radar data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites, spanning 2016 to 2023, to analyze land motion across the city. The resulting detailed map identified areas with pronounced sinking and rising.

Significant sinking has been observed in several areas, including LaGuardia Airport, Arthur Ashe Stadium, parts of Interstate 78, and Governor’s Island, among others. Notably, Arthur Ashe Stadium and a LaGuardia runway are sinking at approximately 4.6 millimeters (0.18 inches) and 3.7 millimeters (0.15 inches) per year, respectively.

The study suggests that areas with the most noticeable subsidence are often those with historical ground alterations, like land reclamation and landfill construction. Such areas have materials more susceptible to compression and sinking under weight compared to bedrock, explained JPL’s Brett Buzanga.

The lingering effects of the last ice age also contribute to the city’s uneven land motion. As the massive ice sheet that once covered New England retreated, the land has been slowly recalibrating. This long-term geological adjustment is causing parts of the East Coast, including New York, to sink, as explained by U.S Geological Survey’s Tom Parsons, who wasn’t part of this study but has conducted similar research.

In contrast, certain regions in New York City, such as Newton Creek in Brooklyn and Woodside in Queens, are unexpectedly rising, a phenomenon that the researchers believe might be connected to activities like groundwater pumping or treatment processes for contaminated water.

Nevertheless, the general subsidence across the city, coupled with rising sea levels, poses an escalating flood risk. Buzanga emphasizes that understanding these local variations in sinking rates is crucial for developing effective strategies for coping with and preparing for the consequences of sea level rise.”