A Changing Long Island
Superstorm Sandy shows how climate change impacts coastal New York
Long Island is 118 miles long and is the most populated island in the United States. It's filled with beaches, wetlands, and marshes. It's also home to a lot of wildlife.
But after Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island in October, habitats for both people and local wildlife were left threatened and exposed. Trees were blown down, which affected where deer and birds can live. The downed trees also fell on homes and cars.
The bigger issue, though, was the strong storm surge caused by Sandy. It washed over barrier islands and eroded Long Island's beaches. Not only did this damage homes, but it caused serious ecological damage to Long Island.
"Storms like Sandy alter the pattern of the beaches and the shore lines," Art DeGaetano says. DeGaetano is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Director, NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. "[These kinds of storms] basically erode the sand dunes, [which] are the protection for areas inland. So that makes areas more vulnerable to other storms that may come along."
Beach erosion is a big problem for the people and animals that make coastal Long Island home. But it's only one part of the challenge Long Islanders face.
Rising sea levels caused by climate change also threaten costal areas and habitats. In fact, the whole of Long Island is in danger.
"We know that Long Island s not far above sea level," Professor DeGaetano says. "And if we look at the amount of sea level rise we expect to see in the next 100 years, many of the places [such as] beaches the barrier islands will be close to being totally underwater."
As the planet gets warmer and sea levels rise, the odds increase that storms like Sandy will become more common. "Basically, storms on steroids," Rutgers professor Kenneth Miller tells the Kids Press Corps.
Many Long Island homeowners have had to deal with the impacts of rising sea levels and stronger storms when Sandy hit.
Kim Pawlowski lived in the Patchogue/Bellport area near Patchogue Bay when Sandy made landfall. She has lived on Long Island her whole life. But she lost her entire home and everything in it thanks an 11-foot wave churned up by Sandy. Her home sat in six feet of water for a week after the storm.
Pawlowski said there was an "endless amounts of trash after the storm."
"I prepared the best I could, but the storm was really violent and took all my stuff anyway," she adds. "I'm not sure what effects having all the garbage and chemicals from the homes will have on her old neighborhood. We may not know for years."
She says that after Sandy, she has relocated to another part of Long Island. She doesn't want to experience something like Sandy again.
This kind of rethinking of living near water is taking place in other areas hit hard by Sandy, like New Jersey. And while answers and solutions are still being discovered, one thing's for sure: Thanks to climate change, the way people live in coastal areas will never be the same.
Additional reporting by Kid Reporter Amiri Tulloch.
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