New York City sinking under the weight of bulky skyscrapers says new study


New York City is sinking at an average rate of 1 to 2 millimeters per year due to the presence of tall and bulky skyscrapers, also called subsidence, new research has estimated.

The process of subsidence is natural, but a study published in the journal Earth’s Future this month has revealed how the metropolis — which boasts multiple skyscrapers dotting its skyline — is sinking under its own weight.

Over one million buildings are spread across the five boroughs of New York City. The research has estimated that these buildings weigh around 1.7 trillion tons of concrete, glass and metal on the Earth’s surface, which means the mass of 4,700 Empire State buildings is pressing down on our planet, The Associated Press reported.

The rate of compression is different throughout New York City.

The skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan are largely built on rock, which compresses very little. On the other hand, some areas of Brooklyn, Queens and downtown Manhattan are located on looser soil and sinking faster, the study noted.

Lead researcher of the US Geological Survey, Tom Parsons, said although the process is slow, he warned that some parts of the city will eventually be underwater.

“It’s inevitable. The ground is going down, and the water’s coming up. At some point, those two levels will meet,” said Parsons.

He, however, stated there is no requirement to invest in life preservers for now.

The study focuses more on how much the buildings are contributing to the shifting landscape, he said. The research was conducted by Parson and his team by using satellite imaging, mathematical assumptions and data modeling for conclusions.

There’s a lot of weight there, a lot of people there,” Parsons said while specifically pointing out at Manhattan.

“The average elevation in the southern part of the island is only 1 or 2 meters (3.2 or 6.5 feet) above sea level — it is very close to the waterline, and so it is a deep concern.”

With ocean levels rising similarly like how the land is sinking, there is a risk that some parts of New York City could be under water sooner than expected given the climate change crisis.

“It doesn’t mean that we should stop building buildings. It doesn’t mean that the buildings are themselves the sole cause of this. There are a lot of factors,” Parsons said.

“The purpose was to point this out in advance before it becomes a bigger problem.”