Climate change and the Big Apple

A few months ago, Superstorm Sandy tore through the New York Metropolitan region, causing significant damage to homes, businesses, and municipal infrastructure. Hard hit areas, like the Jersey Shore and Staten Island, are still recovering.

Sandy was the second Atlantic hurricane to batter the Northeast in just as many years. But while Hurricane Irene caused extensive power outages and flooding throughout New England, much of Sandy’s impact was felt on the coast, where a 13-ft storm surge hit New York City and nearby coastal communities.

In the days following the storm, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo remarked to President Barack Obama, “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.” He also mentioned that New York City was not built to withstand such natural disasters with the frequency that they’ve been occurring.

Sea level rise and increased storm activity are dealing a one-two punch to coastal cities like Manhattan, with Masoud Ghandehari, a civil and environmental engineer at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, forecasting costly problems in the coming decade.

Steel is an essential part of the urban underground, from subway systems to pipes that deliver water and gas. And storm surges – combined with an already rising sea level – are rusting this aging infrastructure.

Sea level rise makes groundwater saltier. It also increases the intensity of future floods and storm surges. Unfortunately, on the East Coast of the U.S.,  sea level rise is happening four times faster than the global average.

Keeping the Big Apple resilient will require smart investment in renewed infrastructure and real action on climate change policy.


Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on January 21, 2013. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit:

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