New York: Sinking under the skyscrapers

New York City is sinking under the massive weight of its skyscrapers.

New research has revealed that the combination of massive skyscrapers and a rising sea level could make the city more prone to natural disasters.

However, researchers said developers are not taking the risk of rising waters seriously enough, and this could spell trouble for the over 8 million residents of the city in the future.

A team at the University of Rhode Island took on the daunting task of estimating the total weight of the more than 1 million buildings that make up New York City. They found that almost 1 trillion kg of concrete, steel and glass are pushing down the ground, causing it to slowly sink lower towards sea level.


The famed eight-block-long Wall Street in the financial heart of New York is just 1 to 2m above sea level.
Midtown Manhattan is built on rock, which compresses very little. However, Brooklyn and Queens have looser soil, which causes the sinking to happen faster.

Fears for a slowly sinking city

Parts of Lower Manhattan were artificially expanded by land reclamation near the coastline, making the ground more vulnerable to gravitational forces from the weight of the buildings because it is not as compact as natural landscape.

As a result, some of the land there is sinking twice as fast, at a rate of up to 4mm per year.


Researchers said that while it is not yet an emergency, they want to provide the science to help with future planning.

“This is where the policy comes into play. This is where we have the responsibility to integrate this data, this science, with other science and climate science, and talk about the impacts.”  

– Mr Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a senior researcher at Columbia University’s Climate School

However, construction is showing no signs of stopping.

The same waterfront areas that bore the brunt of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy and the more recent flash floods have seen some of the highest rates of new housing developments.

New York Floods after Hurricane Sandy

The city, which has some of the most expensive land in the United States, stands to lose a lot as rising seas continue to erode the shore, said observers.


“In the New York area, as we project to 2050, the amount approaches US$1 billion.This is not the retail value of land but the tax-assessed value. This value supports property taxes and all of the municipal services dependent on those.” – Peter Girard, vice president of communicationsresearch organisation, Climate Central

The city ranks third in the world in terms of the value of real estate assets exposed to coastal flooding, after Guangzhou and Miami.

This could mean big losses for owners and investors if natural disasters hit.

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