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NEW YORK – On June 9-10, 2009, an international group of scientists, engineers, city planners, port, transportation, and emergency managers convened at Stony Brook University Manhattan to discuss common challenges and innovative strategies for protecting coastal populations, port facilities, industrial centers, transportation corridors, water systems, telecommunications facilities, hospitals, schools, and financial businesses in flood-prone coastal urban areas. With a focus on international examples, workshop participants discussed the development and implementation of strategies to mitigate flood risks and protect communities and infrastructure in coastal cities. In particular, experts compared measures undertaken to reduce the risks and consequences of climate change in the cities of Rotterdam, Jakarta, and New York, each with a Dutch heritage.

Rotterdam is the second largest city in The Netherlands and one of the world’s largest seaports, but it is located several feet below sea level. The city is kept dry by huge sea walls, pumps, and storm surge barriers. Jakarta was the capital city of the Dutch East Indies for 350 years. It is a vast developing Asian city with great ranges of wealth and poverty, with many people living in subsistence conditions along its congested shores and polluted estuaries. It is highly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea level.

The Dutch settled New York City in 1615 and enjoyed sovereignty for only 65 years before the British invasion. Even so, evidence of Dutch culture is found everywhere. Although New York City is located above sea level, much of its critical infrastructure – trains, subways, tunnels, water and sewer systems, heating/cooling, and telecommunications facilities – lie below sea level.

"Adaptation and mitigation strategies can be designed to avoid the worst of poor land-use planning, or minimize its consequences in the case of storms and flooding," said Malcolm Bowman, Ph.D., professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. "We must not hide our collective heads in the sand and imagine that the circumstances that might lead to catastrophic flooding in a heavily populated urban area such as New York City or southern Long Island will never happen. Floods are certain to occur; the question is what we are going to do to protect ourselves when it does happen."

The workshop included discussion of evacuation schemes, barrier construction, elevation of critical infrastructure, improved scientific understanding of storm surges, and communications with emergency personnel, civilians, schools, hospitals, and companies, plus post storm measures such as insurance and emergency relief. Experts also focused on innovative architecture, and how to change public perceptions of what climate adaptation policies are and how to develop new strategies for communicating these plans.
– Source: Stony Brook University