New Study Reveals New York's Subsidence Crisis: The City Sinking Under Its Own Weight

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While New York is known as the city that never sleeps, a recent study has revealed a concerning issue that might keep residents up at night – the city is sinking. The iconic skyscrapers that make up the concrete jungle are contributing to the gradual descent of the Big Apple, making it more susceptible to the threats of rising sea levels and coastal flooding caused by climate change.

Published in the Earth's Future journal, the study aimed to assess the impact of New York's extensive infrastructure on subsidence, which refers to the sinking of land due to natural processes or human activities like mineral extraction. Geologists involved in the research calculated that the city's more than one million buildings exert a downward pressure of approximately 1.68 trillion pounds (762 billion kilograms) on the Earth's surface, equivalent to the weight of around 1.9 million fully fueled Boeing 747-400s.

The study found that New York is sinking at an average rate of one to two millimeters per year, with certain areas built on softer rock or artificial landfill experiencing subsidence of up to four and a half millimeters per year. However, reducing the construction of skyscrapers alone will not solve the problem, according to lead author Tom Parsons, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey. He explained that the primary cause of subsidence in New York and along the Eastern Seaboard is tectonic and cannot be halted.

The sinking of New York exacerbates the impact of sea-level rise caused by global warming and the melting of ice caps worldwide. Sea Level reports that water levels around New York are already nine inches higher than they were in 1950. The city's government predicts that surrounding waters could rise between eight inches (20 centimeters) and 30 inches by 2050. To mitigate the risks, the state is investing billions of dollars in building sea walls, raising roads, and improving drainage systems. However, low-lying areas have already experienced devastating floods during intense storms, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Ida in 2021.

While it is challenging to predict when parts of New York might be underwater, Tom Parsons emphasized that it will happen. The timeline remains uncertain due to the steady nature of city subsidence and the unpredictability of future greenhouse gas emissions, which influence sea-level rise.

New York is not the only major city facing a sinking crisis. Venice, known for its canals, is also at risk of submersion due to subsidence and rising water levels. In response to Jakarta's excessive groundwater extraction, which has caused rapid sinking, Indonesia has decided to relocate its capital. These examples underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the interconnected challenges of subsidence, rising sea levels, and climate change impacting cities worldwide.

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