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If Seas Rise Three Feet By 2100, Here's What NYC Can Do To Be Ready


New research suggests that the time horizon for cataclysmic sea level rise could be a lot shorter than previously thought. This is a city that takes these things seriously—all the more so since 2012, when Sandy caused power outages over much of Manhattan and flooded buildings with as much as 10 feet of water.

It’s the job of Howard White, an EVP at Maxons Restorations, to figure out how to clean up the mess when disasters like floods hit, and get commercial properties up and running again.

He says storms like Sandy and Katrina put people in the disaster mitigation business on a footing where the unthinkable is now what they think about every day.

But a sudden, permanent three-foot sea level rise, which new research suggests could happen by the end of this century, would be “beyond unthinkable,” he says.

The new research in the journal Nature indicates that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is bigger than Mexico, is in danger of breaking up much sooner than expected. The research says that by the 22nd century, sea level rise could accelerate to a rate of one foot per decade.

There are ways to be ready that work at some properties, Howard says, like moving essential mechanical equipment higher up in buildings, or installing a system called an aqua fence to keep water out.

But two things are necessary for these methods to work, according to Howard: first, some warning, and second, some place to pump the water. A storm is one thing, but in a case where the surge doesn’t recede, the impact on low-lying real estate could be dire.

“You’re talking basically about abandoning real estate until you can find somewhere to put the water,” he says.

We’d do well to take a look at what the Dutch have done, he says. “Short of building a giant berm to keep the water out, I’m not sure what you can do to prepare.”