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A More Submerged Manhattan?

There was interesting news about research into projected sea level rise released over the weekend. Jianjun Yin of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies led a team that looked into how ocean temperature in the Atlantic Ocean could impact sea levels along the coast of the northeastern United States. Their models suggested that the region could experience a 45 percent higher sea level than the global average, due to an end to the flow of the Gulf Stream, and the expansion of the resulting warmer Atlantic Ocean water.

That’s a particularly interesting finding, considering what was announced in Copenhagen last week – that the current predictions of sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are far too conservative, and that global average sea level would probably rise by about a meter over the next 90 years.

la guardia airport sea level rise mapCombine these two studies, and do you get a sea level rise of about a meter and a half along the coast of the northeastern US by the end of this century? That’s not yet clear. It’s possible that the Copenhagen estimates take into account the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies work. I haven’t seen any information about whether that’s the case.

Even if sea levels rise by a meter, will Manhattan go under water? It’s not likely, given the steep sides of the island, and the ability of the city to build sea walls to hold the water back. Models show a minimal impact there – at least within this century.

La Guardia airport, on the other hand, seems to have a good deal of planning to do. The map you see here, generated with data provided by NASA, shows what the Long Island airport would look like with a meter rise in sea level. If there is an additional impact from the Gulf Stream shutdown, the problem will be even worse. Given the slow rate of ordinary maintenance work at La Guardia, I’d suggest that plans to beat back the waves of Flushing Bay begin ASAP.

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