Blue Means Flood

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Issue 16, Volume 112

By Karina Gupta 

Cover Image

Across the Battery Park City waterfront esplanade, 11unique lamp posts stand out. Partially painted a brilliant blue, these lampposts starkly contrast with the ominosity of the cause they represent—the cotton-candy color that you crane your head to gaze upon? Soon, it could be the murky green waters of the Hudson, ready to crash above you.

Attached to the lamp posts are signs that explain the meaning behind these distinctive constructions: the height of the blue paint represents potential flooding from future weather, specifically a storm projected to hit New York City in 2050. The “100-year storm,” an eerily dystopian name, may in fact harrow the future of Battery Park City, an area that has been classified as a future flood zone. Starting in 2050, these areas will annually be at a one percent risk of flooding—a possibility that, though seemingly insignificant, could be tremendously devastating. It took New York roughly seven years to recover from Hurricane Sandy, with over 69,000 residences damaged, thousands of New Yorkers temporarily displaced, and around $19 billion in damages. This tropical storm tore the city down with a combined storm surge (the rise of water generated by a storm) and high tide sea level of 11.29 feet. The future floods, meanwhile, could rise anywhere between 18 to 23.5 feet.

One contributing factor to these future storms is the accelerating rate of rising sea levels. This is caused largely by the consequences of global warming, such as melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Glaciers in Washington state alone melt to form 1.8 trillion liters of water each summer. Aside from contributing to sea level rise, glacial melting is exceedingly concerning because glaciers are the Earth’s main source of fresh water. In addition to harming glaciers, global warming affects the surrounding waters. Of the total trapped heat from the atmosphere, more than 90 percent is absorbed by oceans. This water, in a process known as thermal expansion, then warms and expands in volume. Both of these systems combined, triggered by global warming, ultimately raise the sea level of water bodies.

Over time, several architectural structures have been invented to prevent the land and its people from being inundated by sea water. Dating back to the Roman Empire, the sea wall is a physical barrier against the sea. This structure, however, is not a panacea for flooding; though seawalls protect the cities from some flooding, they create a myriad of other issues. These structures essentially push the problem to the nearby shorelines by multiplying the force of waves. Also, if left to degrade, the remnants from sea walls could wash into the water and damage delicate habitats.

Rather than suggesting reactive solutions such as sea walls, a United Nations report indicates the need for “transformative changes in our behavior and infrastructure.” Solutions to climate change problems may work for the time being, but increasing pollution will destroy certain areas to the point where there is no turning back. The current state of the Earth is shaped by human actions that are continuing and growing even though cities are sinking and the skies are bleeding for months on end. Most people aren’t willing to compromise or adapt, even if it can legitimately save the world. They figure, “It won’t make any difference if I do this. I’m just one person.” Yet, billions of people are thinking this, so it is never just one person. People tend to believe that in such a big world, they can’t make an impact. But by standing up, you’re one of the 7.9 billion people who can make the world a better place.