But it's sinking all the same.
Sink or Swim
Just a few days before New York City experienced unprecedented flooding, NASA and Rutgers quietly published a report seemingly in response to a previous study suggesting the city might be sinking under the colossal weight of its skyscrapers.
Using remote sensing data from the last seven years tailored to the roughly 300 square miles that make up all of NYC's five boroughs, the scientists found some good news, some bad news, and some strange information they weren't prepared for.
The good news is that, contrary to a previous study published in the journal Earth's Future earlier this year, all those skyscrapers aren't causing NYC to sink after all. The bad news: it is sinking, by an average of 0.06 inches — "about the same amount that a toenail grows in a month" — per year, though the causes are mostly related to natural geographical phenomena, with a dash of human meddling.
The weird part? Some parts of NYC are actually rising, and researchers don't know why.
According to a NASA explainer about the new study, published recently in the journal Science Advances, most of the parts of the Big Apple that are sinking appear to be doing so because they're located on what used to be ancient glacial ice sheets that melted tens of thousands of years ago.
That ice, the researchers explained, used to take up most of what is now New England, with "a wall of ice more than a mile high" covering today's Albany. Now, with that weight gone, some elevations are still changing as the landscape readjusts.
"Earth’s mantle, somewhat like a flexed mattress, has been slowly readjusting ever since," the NASA statement reads. "New York City, which sits on land that was raised just outside the edge of the ice sheet, is now sinking back down."
As the study points out, there are some "isolated hotspots" that are sinking faster, at rates of 0.15 inches to 0.18 inches per year — but even those are subsiding faster because they're located atop landfills. Those hotspots include LaGuardia Airport in Queens and the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens, which hosts the US Open tennis tournament.
When looking at the remote sensing data from 2016-2023, the research team also found that some "hotspots," such as the Queens neighborhood of Woodside and the Newtown Creek superfund site in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are also going through a process known as "uplift," which, as the name suggests, is when the land starts to rise.
"We weren’t sure what to make of those," Rutgers' Robert Kopp, the study's co-author, told Gothamist of the strange finding.
Like the tides and the vibes, the land in New York is both rising and falling — but according to this latest work, the effect isn't the fault of the city's 1.68 trillion pounds of steel.
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