Since hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, New York and environs in 2012, there has been an increased focus on the threat of sea-level rise and storms to coastal mega-cities. A new article in Science by a team from the Netherlands, MIT, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania reviews adaptation strategies developed for the Big Apple and how they might be paid for. First, the group modeled flood damage and found an estimate for expected flood loss at $174 million per year, then they did a cost-benefit analysis of each of the strategies. Which strategies are most cost effective depends on how much sea level might rise. Clearly, waiting to see which scenario of sea level rise comes to fruition by 2040 is not an option. In fact, news today indicates the Antarctic ice shelves are being held in place by “small plugs” of ice. What this means to the rate of sea level rise is not immediately clear, but it may indicate that there are tipping points that could cause a more rapid rise than we have seen in human history.
The conclusion that millions of new dollars need to be found to pay for making New York more resilient is not a palatable one, however, the researchers do propose a few policies that might be used to reserve or raise funds for increasing resilience. What can Hampton Roads learn from the experience in NYC? Many of the ideas develop for NYC could be applied to Virginia, but we are also unique. The VIMS recurrent flooding study identified the vulnerability of communities in the Tidewater area and provided an overview of adaptation strategies. It would be great to see the next step- the economic analysis and strategic designs.