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New York City's Hotspots Sinking Faster Than Others, Reveals New NASA Report

The threat presented by the city’s sinking is being worsened by increasing sea levels.

New York City is collapsing beneath the weight of its own city and among the first areas to be affected by such a tragedy are LaGuardia Airport, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Coney Island, according to a recent NASA report. The five boroughs of New York City are sinking more quickly than the city as a whole, which is sinking at a rate of 1.6 millimetres annually, according to research conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Rutgers University.

According to research published in Science Advances, from 2016 to 2023, the US Open Venue- Arthur Ashe Stadium and runways at LaGuardia airport saw the most sinking, lowering at rates of 3.7 and 4.6 millimetres per year, respectively. These two locations may have sunk the fastest since they were both constructed over previous landfills.

Further, the threat presented by the city’s sinking is being worsened by increasing sea levels. Hurricanes and extratropical storms have caused coastal flooding in the city, among other problems. One of the examples is Superstorm Sandy of 2012 which devastated the city.

“Protecting coastal populations and assets from coastal flooding is an ongoing challenge for New York City. The combined effect of natural sea level variations and destructive storms is being increasingly exacerbated by ongoing sea level rise,” the researchers wrote in the report.

NASA research also added that Interstate 78, which passes through the Holland Tunnel that connects Manhattan to New Jersey, is also sinking at nearly double the rate of the rest of the city. The southern half of Governors Island, Midland and South Beach in Staten Island and Arverne by the Sea, a coastal neighbourhood in southern Queens are also sinking faster.

The report was released after the United States Geological Survey discovered earlier this year that the New York metropolis’s more than 1 million buildings weigh close to 1.7 trillion pounds and that the city was gradually collapsing under its own weight. The report stated that the city was sinking at the rate of 1-2 millilitres per year. The researchers arrived at the result by comparing the geology beneath the city to satellite data showing its footprint.

“New York faces significant challenges from flood hazard; the threat of sea level rise is 3 to 4 times higher than the global average along the Atlantic coast of North America… A deeply concentrated population of 8.4 million people faces varying degrees of hazard from inundation in New York City,” lead researcher and geologist Tom Parsons of the United States Geological Survey wrote in the report in May.

The team of researchers calculated the cumulative mass of the more than 1 million buildings in New York City, which worked out to be 764,000,000,000 kilograms or 1.68 trillion pounds. They divided the city into a grid of 100-by-100-metre squares and converted building mass to downward pressure by factoring in gravity’s pull. Increased urbanisation, including the draining and pumping of groundwater, could only add to New York’s subsidence problem, the researchers warned earlier.
 

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