New York City Is Sinking Back Into The Ocean

The weight of NYC's skyscrapers are causing the island to slowly sink back into the ocean.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Updated

NYC in The Day After Tomorrow

New York City might be known as the city that never sleeps, but it will soon be known as the city that’s about to sink as this geology report in the AGU states that NYC is sinking into the ocean at a rate of one to two millimeters per year due to the weight of its skyscrapers. 

The problem is the New York City skyline. New York has over 6,000 high-rise buildings, almost 300 of which can be considered skyscrapers as they stand over 150 meters tall. The tallest building in NYC is the New World Trade Center, coming in at 1,792 feet tall. When you think about how much metal and materials are required to make such massive buildings like this and how much it all weighs, it’s no wonder that New York City is sinking.

Altogether, there are more than a million buildings in the New York City area, adding up to almost 1.7 trillion pounds of weight smooshing the island towards the Earth’s core. All of this weight is causing the detrimental effect of the entire city sinking deeper into the ocean every year. And while one to two millimeters per year doesn’t sound like a lot to those not in the geology space, the report assures us that this is a pretty big deal. 

Not only is this causing the island’s beaches to shrink little by little every year, “with some areas subsiding much faster,” but this sinking effect is leaving New York City particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. The study shows that Lower Manhattan is the most at risk, but other boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn aren’t in the safe zone either. 

New York City’s sinking problem is causing the area to be three to four times more at risk for sea level rise than any other area on the East Coast. Considering that NYC also hosts a huge population of 8.4 million people in what’s actually a relatively small amount of space (NYC is only roughly 300 square miles), this threat can negatively impact a lot of people. In fact, the city has already seen some negative effects through natural disasters that began occurring more than a decade ago.

Both Hurricane Sandy (2012) and Hurricane Ida (2021) caused casualties and created massive damage to the city. The most recent of the two hurricanes caused immense water runoff and flooding as New York City is not properly set up to handle large amounts of rainfall and the majority of the city is paved with nowhere for the water to go once it hits the ground. Researchers fear that the structural integrity of every building in the city could be at risk on the sinking island.

Lead researcher and geologist Tom Parsons of the United States Geological Survey wrote in the New York City sinking study, “The combination of tectonic and anthropogenic subsidence, sea level rise, and increasing hurricane intensity imply an accelerating problem along coastal and riverfront area. Repeated exposure of building foundations to salt water can corrode reinforcing steel and chemically weaken concrete causing structural weakening.”

Unfortunately, those in charge of the construction of new buildings in New York City are not taking the sinking study seriously. Despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, 90 percent of the buildings built after the storm have not been built to floodplain standards.