After a respectable period its a good time to revisit the aftermath of Sandy and raise a few important questions about living on the front line of coastal plains and tidal waterways. When the storm does come and the defences are rendered ineffective, the inevitable happens to the land and infrastructure that supports us.
The storm passes quickly enough and the waters subside in time, but the damage that remains is often persistent, unseen and potentially more lethal than the event itself. A storm surge carries huge power, it picks up what it wants and leaves it where it likes, it has no respect for man nor permit! It can strip back the land, move good from shelves and swamps tanks and drainage systems.
A lot of what we use in our everyday lives, the engine and fuel oils released, the cleansing and disinfection fluids, paints solvents and infection bearing sludges. These are toxic in the wrong environment and when many substances are mixed up and distributed in a diffuse way, they can be difficult to detect and quantify in terms of risk. This is precisely what has happened with Sandy, the water has ingressed the old and ailing infrastructure of New York. Sandy stripped out toxins, leaving them in dense heterogeneous sediments to leach back out in what amounts to a game that has become a cross between hide and seek and Russian roulette!
In time these sediments will give up their chemicals slowly leaching back into streams and rivers and percolating down into the groundwater, where it can enter water supplies. This will impact upon
people and ecosystems and the clean up could prove prohibitively expensive, due to the range and distribution of toxins.
There is no point in being smug that it wasn't you this time around either, all low lying populace areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Climate change is accelerating and extreme weather events will increase in frequency raising the risk of a growing legacy of toxic sediments being built up in many locations. This will become a growing cost of climate change, as already discussed, clear up will be very expensive and retro-fit to provide greater protection will be costly too!
As I see it now, however we mitigate (and we will have to), we will have to adopt a lot of new ways to adapt to our changing and increasingly extreme climate. I believe that this require a lot of planning on a large scale and much better integration between aspects of land use in terms of how and where urban populations exist and how they are supported by a hinterland.
More local resilience will be needed, with major infrastructure designed to offer support at a more strategic level (i.e. more decentralised generation, but connected to a simplified grid that offers options on storage). This is an option for renewal but there is no easy solution for what is already in place, it is likely that many location will quickly change from pleasant seaside real estate to deserted liability!