Sandy rolled over the lot of us East Coasters; it took us unawares. The evacuation warnings from officials beforehand were so explicit for a reason: Whoever could’ve imagined we’d see the day when New York City itself was swamped, with lower Manhattan blacked out and flooded in car-carrying waters?
Climate modelers, that’s who. Over the last decade U.S. climate scientists have pretty clearly articulated where rising sea levels would pose a threat coastal regions. And in 2007, a group of architecture researchers released a report called Nation Under Siege that used that data to illustrate what surging floodwaters might look like, with a 3D Google Maps layer. Among the cities it modeled were New York and Atlantic City.
Above, you’ll find its depiction of New York City under 3 meters (10 feet) of sea level rise.
Inside Climate News, which flagged the study, describes the eerie prescience of Nation Under Siege:
The maps provide an uncanny prediction of what transpired Monday night when superstorm Sandy engulfed 1,000 miles of Atlantic coastline. Most striking is the 3-D map of New York (pictured above), which shows what could happen to the city with a 3-meter (9.8-foot) rise in sea level: Lower Manhattan, the East Village neighborhood and the FDR Drive underwater. That’s exactly what Sandy’s 3-meter storm surge delivered.
These maps were intended to illustrate permanent sea level rise, not storm surges, but ICN is right; it’s pretty uncanny how the calamities line up. Here’s their prediction of Atlantic City, under just 5 feet of sea level rise:
And here’s the real deal.
Photo: Tim Aubry/Greenpeace
The report used climate data to predict flood threats for 31 different coastal cities across the country. The driving point is that even a few feet of sea level rise—or storm surge—can swamp entire metropolises. Look what 3 feet does to Miami:
The map layer reveals a future that has arrived long before the permanent 1, 1.5, and 3-foot sea level rises it aimed to depict. Any permanent sea rise comparable to those levels wouldn’t produce images like that, after all—before long, the ocean would sweep away those homes and infrastructure entirely, or people would just wise up and move away. No, these images are far more likely to sync up with climate change-fueled storm surge events like Sandy, while there are still coastal homes to go “under siege.”
And remember, one meter of sea level rise by the end of the century is now considered likely even by more conservative climate scientists. Unless we act to mitigate climate change and adapt our cities to cope with higher tides, we may see more of the report’s cautionary imagery proven prophetic much sooner than that.