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Study: Rising Sea Levels Made Sandy Flooding Worse in NYC

Monday, August 05, 2013 - 04:00 AM

WNYC

A new study finds rising sea levels have increased the damage on New York City wrought by hurricanes and storms like Sandy.

The oceans are creeping up on us. It's been happening for a long time. "In essence that means your house now sits 22 inches closer to sea level than it did 200 years ago," said Andrew Kemp the study's author and a researcher at Tufts University. 

He likened the effect to lowering a basketball hoop so shorter and shorter people can dunk. As sea level rises higher and higher, smaller and smaller storms will breach flood walls, berms and basements.

The study released in the Journal of Quaternary Science on Thursday compares historic storm flooding in NYC back to 1788, the year the first large hurricane to hit New York City. 

Since then seven major storms have hit New York City and caused some flooding and each time a new storm surge hits, it rests on top of a slightly higher sea level. The researchers found that sea level around New York City has risen by 16.1 inches since 1788 and the land itself has subsided by 5.9 inches, combing for a total 22 inch rise in relative sea level. 

That's not what causes flooding. It's want exacerbates it.

The biggest factors that caused flooding during Sandy and other storms were the storm surge and the tide, but those factors rest on top of the baseline sea level, Kemp said. 

Sandy was still an unusual event. It was not an every day or every year event. Rising sea level doesn't mean there will be more storms like Sandy, it means that storms less powerful than Sandy will be more likely to flood. 

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