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The weight of New York City: Possible contributions to subsidence from anthropogenic sources

May 8, 2023

New York City faces accelerating inundation risk from sea level rise, subsidence, and increasing storm intensity from natural and anthropogenic causes. Here we calculate a previously unquantified contribution to subsidence from the cumulative mass and downward pressure exerted by the built environment of the city. We enforce that load distribution in a multiphysics finite element model to calculate expected subsidence. Complex surface geology requires multiple rheological soil models to be applied; clay rich soils and artificial fill are calculated to have the highest post-construction subsidence as compared with more elastic soils. Minimum and maximum calculated building subsidence ranges from 0 to 600 mm depending on soil/rock physical parameters and foundation modes. We compare modeled subsidence and surface geology to observed subsidence rates from satellite data (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar and Global Positioning System). The comparison is complicated because the urban load has accumulated across a much longer period than measured subsidence rates, and there are multiple causes of subsidence. Geodetic measurements show a mean subsidence rate of 1–2 mm/year across the city that is consistent with regional post-glacial deformation, though we find some areas of significantly greater subsidence rates. Some of this deformation is consistent with internal consolidation of artificial fill and other soft sediment that may be exacerbated by recent building loads, though there are many possible causes. New York is emblematic of growing coastal cities all over the world that are observed to be subsiding (Wu et al., 2022,, meaning there is a shared global challenge of mitigation against a growing inundation hazard.

Publication Year 2023
Title The weight of New York City: Possible contributions to subsidence from anthropogenic sources
DOI 10.1029/2022EF003465
Authors Thomas E. Parsons, Pei-Chin Wu, Meng (Matt) Wei, Steven D’Hondt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth's Future
Index ID 70243536
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center