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Student scheme to protect Future-Manhattan from rising sea levels


February 15, 2012

Students at the University of Pennsylvania have come up with an idea to install waterproof membranes protecting the lower stories of Manhattan's buildings to protect against rising sea levels

Students at the University of Pennsylvania have come up with an idea to install waterproof membranes protecting the lower stories of Manhattan's buildings to protect against rising sea levels

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A pair of students at the University of Pennsylvania have an audacious suggestion should rising sea levels make their presence felt in Manhattan, New York. Their scheme would see the installation of waterproof canopies to the lower stories of skyscrapers. Tingwei Xu and Xie Zhang say their idea has an "irreducible integrity," thanks to the canopies' various functions which, the students say, are each of equal importance. So in addition to keeping water out, these canopies provide additional structural support against lateral forces, provide green or agricultural space, and, judging by the visualizations, provide living and working areas in their own right.

Though the choice of New York might affords the students the opportunity to include iconic architecture in their visualizations, it's not without foundation in respect of climate science. A 2009 study carried out at Florida State University by climate modeler Jianjun Yin suggested the New York sea level could rise by up to 21 cm (8.3 in) depending on future greenhouse gas emission levels. Such a rise would not permanently submerge Manhattan, but would dramatically increase the threat of flooding in the event of hurricanes and storm surges. It is thought that the North Atlantic Ocean will experience a greater rise than the global mean due to thermal expansion, and the possible slowing of the North Atlantic Gyre.

In this scenario, a scheme that protects the city center from intermittent flooding begins to look sensible. Indeed, for the more multi-functional aspects of the student's scheme to work seem to incorporate this idea of infrequent submersion. But it's not merely the direct penetration of water into buildings that must be considered. Sea water is particularly corrosive, and poses a particular threat to essential services and infrastructure. Flood defenses located around buildings (perhaps less dramatic than those envisaged here) might therefore be adopted as an additional precaution, rather than as an alternative to more traditional defenses such as dikes that aim to prevent flooding outright.

The pair's scheme is merely a concept. There are no details as to proposed materials, construction methods, or the precise nature of water-proofing. The lattice form certainly doesn't appear all that watertight at the outer layers. What is interesting is the purely architectural response to flooding - a response not without optimism. It's a grim prospect that North Atlantic cities may face a future of increased flooding, but that flood defenses can be put to work as vibrant living and working spaces is commendably imaginative. Consider it the start of a conversation, then. And if you can, try to overlook the radiation suits and, er, Imperial Stormtroopers in the visualizations.

Sources: Evolo, Nature Geoscience

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

It\'s not about adapting at rising water\'s level. We must prevent ocean\'s rising level! Many important species will disapear with this way of thinking, we\'ll be the next...

Iosif Olimpiu

The sea levels have change in past since 2000. So stop lying to people.

Joe Tester

Sea level still not cooperating with predictions


Joe Tester

I say call every 3rd floor 1st floor, every 2nd L, every 1st L2 etc and haul in 20 ft of earth everywhere . You would have new roads and a potential to install subways without having to dig down. You just build and bury. Problem fixed.

Rustin Haase

I\'m wondering how on earth a group of students managed to not only waste that much time, but actually get media attention for what must be a parody project. Honestly, people walking around on that thing? I can see people falling off it. Then again, I wasted my time reading the article, and even more commenting on it, so I can\'t talk.

Tony Smale


Not to start a stupid fight, but I don\'t think whatsupwiththat.com is a credible resource

Daniel Green

project for the gullibles ! And yes indeed Dan, whatsupwiththat is a very credible resource, far more credible than \"obsessed carbonists thinkers\". Not to mention James Hansen and his doomsday predictions of 1998 that occured to be exponentially false. But think what you want and prefer let spend billions of money (from your taxes) for these kinds of project instead spending them against poverty health education water supply and other \"little\" subjects not of the \"Planet\" (She don\'t care) but of the Humanity.


@Iosif Eugen Olimpiu

Ocean levels rise and recede, mountains peak and crumble, rivers flood and dry up, forests grow and burn, glaciers flow and melt; that\'s what planets do. Global change is inevitable and constant, with or without human influence. What do you propose be done to stop that?

Shawn Jones

It is not a bad idea but what is to become of the roads that would be underwater. Pehpas some cities would become like Venice, with boats instead of cars taking people around.

Adrian Akau

This is one of the cities that is supposed to sink . The result of an asteroid hit, not global warming. England ,Japan, etc is at risk. Atlantis should pop up in return. May Jun 2016 is a possible date.

Stewart Mitchell

One of the biggest danger with Climate Change is thermal expansion. The accepted rise in sea level states that thermal expansion will make up 1/3 -1/2 of the rise. I recently received our patent for a Mechanically Produced Thermocline. We hope to place our pumps in the Arctic to replace the Ice sheets. We could create a permanent ice sheet in the North. A high saline ice pack would ensure the continued function of the Thermohaline. Our system in sub-tropical seas would reduce the heat load that the Earth is currently experiencing. A line of our pumps would create a cold-water Thermocline that would act as a barrier to hurricanes.

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