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Group of climate scientists on 100-ft yacht in New York harbor plot $40bn plan to build sea gates

A group that is proposing a $40 billion system of sea gates to protect New York and New Jersey from deadly storm surges toured the shores ravaged by Hurricane Sandy aboard a 100-ft-long luxury yacht. 

Engineers, scientists and city planners with the New York New Jersey Storm Surge Working Group met on the ninth anniversary of Sandy to discuss how to best protect the area from floods like the one caused by the deadly storm in 2012.

The hurricane killed 60 people in New York and New Jersey, flooding homes and businesses and causing New York City alone an estimated $19 billion in damage, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

As a result, the Working Group has proposed three sea walls at the East River, Jones Inlet and East Rockway, plus a bigger one in the Outer New York Harbor connecting New York and New Jersey.

Members of the group discussed the $40 billion plans aboard the Manhattan II, a mahogany-finished, air-conditioned vessel with panel windows that rents for up to $2,400 an hour, according to Classic Harbor Line.

Scientists, engineers, architects and city planners met aboard the Manhattan II yacht to discuss ways to protect the New York and New Jersey region from storm surges last week

The New York New Jersey Storm Surge Working Group has proposed four sea barriers, with the largest one, stretching from Sandy Hook, NJ to Breezy Point, NY, estimated at $36.4 billion

The New York New Jersey Storm Surge Working Group has proposed four sea barriers, with the largest one, stretching from Sandy Hook, NJ to Breezy Point, NY, estimated at $36.4 billion

The group traveled along the bottom tip of Manhattan, according to a Bloomberg report

The group traveled along the bottom tip of Manhattan, according to a Bloomberg report

The barriers could prevent floods from storms like Hurricane Sandy, which caused about $19 billion in damage in New York City alone. Above, the Plaza Shops on October 30, 2012

The barriers could prevent floods from storms like Hurricane Sandy, which caused about $19 billion in damage in New York City alone. Above, the Plaza Shops on October 30, 2012

‘Don’t underestimate the destruction, dislocation, and human misery that climate change and rising seas will bring in the decades ahead,’ said Stony Brook oceanography professor and chair of the Working Group Malcolm Bowman, according to Bloomberg.

One person aboard the yacht pointed out that a low-tide mark he saw when he first moved to New York is now completely covered, even when the water is at its lowest.

The Working Group says their four proposed barriers would cost about $30 billion to $40 billion to build.

Flooding continues to be a major problem for New York City.

Over the summer, Tropical Storm Elsa left residents trawling through flooded subway stops, with photos and videos of stations bursting with water going viral.

One shocking video circulating on social media showed a woman plunging into the squalid, trash-filled water to catch a train as it arrived in the station, holding shopping bags high above her head to keep them dry. 

As flash flooding hits NYC, video showed a woman plunging into the squalid, trash-filled water to catch a train as it arrived in the station

In the Washington Heights neighborhood, the 1 Train station at 157th Street was seen submerged in deep water

Video from Tropical Storm Elsa in July showed a woman plunging into the squalid, trash-filled water to catch a train as it arrived in the station

Storm surge or flood barriers work by closing shut when extreme water levels are forecast, preventing water from coming into the coast. Above, an illustration from the USACE

Storm surge or flood barriers work by closing shut when extreme water levels are forecast, preventing water from coming into the coast. Above, an illustration from the USACE

The NY/NJ Working Group met last week aboard the mahogany-paneled Manhattan II yacht

The NY/NJ Working Group met last week aboard the mahogany-paneled Manhattan II yacht

The Army Corps of Engineers, which would need to approve the project, said in a 2019 report that the largest barrier – running from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Breezy Point, New York – would cost about $36.4 billion and take 25 years to build.

How do surge barriers work? 

Storm surge barriers – also called flood barriers – are hard engineered structures that prevent coastal flooding. 

They’re fixed barriers or moveable gates that can be closed shut when an extreme water level is forecast.

They’re usually proposed in narrow areas, like the parts of the New York harbor that the NY/NJ Working Group is trying to protect.

They’re expensive projects, and there are no known examples in the developing world.

Moveable storm surge barriers and closure dams provide a high degree of protection and allow the economy and culture of a region to continue unabated, by opening and closing to water traffic when needed.

Source: Climate Technology Centre & Network 

The Corps pointed out that it would need to study the cost and time it would take to build the barriers as well as any environmental risks and navigational concerns. 

‘Any surge barrier across a navigable waterway will include a gate large enough to allow vessels to pass through. A navigational traffic analysis would be required to be completed if a surge barrier is recommended,’ the Corps wrote.

Recent storms in New York have caused floods that have inundated apartments and left cars stuck on drowned roads. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency last month as the city braced for fall storms. 

Sea barriers have been erected throughout the world, and many are still functioning.  

In the Netherlands, the 688-ft-long Maeslant Barrier was built from 1991 to 1997.

It cost $727,832,700 to build in 2021 US dollars. It’s made up of two steel barriers that swing open and close to keep water out during storms.  

The Thames Barrier in the UK is another example, spanning 1,700 feet and consisting of 10 steel gates as tall as a five-story building that can be raised into position across the River Thames, according to the UK government

‘Regional sea gates constructed as part of a layered defense system will provide the best protection from coastal storm surge and rain-induced inland flooding,’ said Sandeep Mehrotra, an environmental scientist who was aboard the Manhattan II last week.

The Thames Barrier in the UK spans 1,700 feet of 10 steel gates that can be raised into position

The Thames Barrier in the UK spans 1,700 feet of 10 steel gates that can be raised into position

In New Orleans, the IHNC)-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, proposed after Hurricane Katrina, cost $1.1 billion to build and was completed in 2013 on an expedited construction schedule

In New Orleans, the IHNC)-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, proposed after Hurricane Katrina, cost $1.1 billion to build and was completed in 2013 on an expedited construction schedule

Examples can also be found close to home.

The largest storm barrier in the US is in New Orleans, where the Army Corps of Engineers expedited a project after Hurricane Katrina.

The storm pummeled the city in 2005 and caused more than $100 billion in property damage and 1,800 deaths

Dubbed the IHNC Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, the 1.8-mile-long barrier cost $1.1 billion and was completed in 2013, according to Corps.   

Floods continue to hit New York, such as the one seen above in Brooklyn on October 26

Floods continue to hit New York, such as the one seen above in Brooklyn on October 26

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Battery Park Underpass was completely flooded

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Battery Park Underpass was completely flooded

The effectiveness of flood barriers depends on how well the planet can work to keep global warming down. 

Higher temperatures melt ice, which leads to higher sea levels. Water also expands when it warms, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Most international agreements seek to keep warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a proposal that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, attending the COP26 climate change conference in Scotland this week, said would be ‘difficult.’


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