New York “sinking under weight of its buildings” according to researchers

New York (Sean Pavone/Dreamstime)
A paper by oceanologists at the University of Rhode Island claims New York will sink by 1-2mm a year under the weight of its buildings.

The Weight of New York City: Possible Contributions to Subsidence from Anthropogenic Sources analysed a public database of building outlines and height data as well as the city’s bedrock and the soil types to determine the results.

According to the researchers, the total weight of New York is 764 million tonnes. They divided the city into a 100 x 100 grid and calculated the downward pressure on the silt, sand and clay lake deposits that make up the city’s subsoil. The team also added real-world subsidence rates for the past several decades courtesy of satellite measurements.

Some areas in Brooklyn, Queens and northern Staten Island may have higher subsidence rates due to structures being built on fill soil.

As well as subsidence, New York and other coastal cities also face rising sea levels and the increasing intensity of storms caused by global warming.

The paper was written by Tom Parsons, Pei-Chin Wu, Meng Wei and Steven D’Hondt and published earlier this month in the journal Earth’s Future. It references a 2001 study by DW Hobbs that noted structural issues can be caused to building foundations by exposure to salt water.

The 2023 paper says: “Increasing urbanisation will likely exacerbate subsidence by groundwater extraction and/or construction density, which combined with accelerating sea level rise implies a growing flood hazard in coastal cities.

“As these trends continue it will be important to be mindful of accompanying mitigation strategies against inundation in growing coastal cities.”

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