In the New York metropolitan area, the ground is subsiding at a rate of 1.6 millimeters per year, with a peak of 4.6 millimeters under the main tennis court at the US Open (Arthur Ashe Stadium) and 3.7 millimeters under Runway 13/31 at LaGuardia Airport. This is indicated by mapping of the Earth’s vertical motions created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Rutgers University thanks to radar detection of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel-1 satellite.
The study results are useful for managing future flood risks exacerbated by climate change published In the journal Science Advances. Thanks to satellite surveys conducted between 2016 and 2023, “we have produced a detailed map of vertical ground motion in the New York City area that has never seen features before,” says the study’s lead author, Brett Buzanga of JPL. Among the major surprises, for example, were the ground elevation observed in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn (rising by about 1.6 millimeters per year) and in Woodside, Queens (rising by about 6.9 millimeters per year between 2016 and 2019, then leveling off).
Most of the vertical movement of the land on which the Big Apple sits has occurred in areas where human modifications (e.g., land reclamation and construction of landfills) have made the land less compact and more compressible under the weight of later constructed buildings. However, nature also played an important role in readjusting the land to match the weight of the ice sheet that spanned much of New England about 24,000 years ago. The study by JPL will continue and expand in the future, again as part of the OPERA (Remote Sensing Analysis End-User Observation Products) project, to describe in detail the movement of the Earth’s surface across North America.
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