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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Researchers at SBU Analyze Flooding

    Climate is powerful. It affects our lives.

    Hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods can have devastating impacts on our economic and social reality.

    ‘No more Fire Island or Jones Beach,’ said Thomas R. Dwyer, a professional geologist from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, who has studied the effects of rising sea levels on Long Island.

    Researchers at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences are currently working on storm surge barriers to provide protection against these potential worries. By combining oceanic models with atmospheric models, researchers are able to stimulate past storm events in order to predict the possibilities for future storm surges in N.Y.C. and other coastal areas such as the South Shore on Long Island.

    Despite the debate over the exact source of global climate change, a couple of things are certain, said Minghua Zhang, the director of the Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres at SBU’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

    Greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere, and this is primarily due to human activity. The temperature of the world has increased in the last 100 years with the ocean temperature rising by 0.7 degrees. Finally, there is an almost uniform increase in greenhouse gas emissions that have put radiative forces, such as greater absorption of sunlight, into the system.

    One chilling situation is the collapse of the Antarctic ice caps, Zhang described. This would result in the rise of global sea level by 200 meters, which would have devastating effects on coastal areas such as Long Island or New York City. The rising seas could swallow whole islands. But, this possible scenario is filled with uncertainties, Zhang said, and it is still too early to tell if and when this would occur.

    A more pressing problem would occur if the Greenland ice caps melt. This would raise sea levels by several meters. Although the likelihood of such a collapse is also unknown, scientists have discovered ‘huge tunnels under thin ice sheets in Greenland‘ that was not there years before, Zhang said.

    Even subtle changes in sea levels could have dramatic affects on New York City. Small increases in sea levels can cause more storm surges resulting in floods that many cities, such as New York City, are not yet capable of dealing with.

    A storm surge is an offshore rise of water, low pressure caused primarily by high winds pushing on the ocean’s surface. The storm surge could flood homes, railway systems and stop businesses. Increased floods could also interfere with water aquifers in the city by adding salt, nutrients and other pollutants into them.

    The storm surge barrier in N.Y.C. would be situated on the south side of Manhattan with 3 individual barriers to block water from the ocean and Long Island Sound when flooding occurs. These barriers would likely cost at least a billion dollars each, but this would be ‘much cheaper than the many billions of dollars of damage a major storm could have,’ said Brian Colle, an associate professor of meteorology researching on storm modeling at SBU.

    Many areas in the world already have sophisticated storm surge barriers in place. London has a storm surge barrier protecting its population from storm surge flooding down the Thames River. Providence, Rhode Island is protected by a storm surge barrier that was installed after 1938, when the ‘Long Island Express’ hurricane had severely damaged the area.

    In Long Island, Stony Brook is one of the more fortunate areas. ‘The university is at a relatively high point of the island, 40 to50 m above mean sea level, given the glacial terminal moraine, debris, across this area, so we are relatively safe from coastal flooding as compared to those along the south shore of Long Island and NYC,’ Colle said.

    Other areas are not as lucky.

    ‘Coastal homes are, sorry to say, in very big trouble, and those living inland may find that they have ocean view real estate,’ Dywer said. ‘Couple erosion with higher sea levels and the beaches disappear quite rapidly.’

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