While recent visitors to Fort Tilden were awash in the sounds of Janet Cardiff’s art installation, a team of researchers pored over nearby Jamaica Bay, investigating strategies to manage both rising seas and storm hazards—like Superstorm Sandy, which nearly destroyed the chapel where Cardiff’s work was installed. The team’s research is a component of Structures of Coastal Resilience, a Rockefeller-Foundation-supported project to propose designs for north Atlantic coastal resilience.
Interdisciplinary teams at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania are studying sites in Narragansett Bay, Atlantic City and Norfolk, Virginia, respectively, while a team at City College of New York is focused on the 85,000 acre Jamaica Bay watershed. Working closely with the local US Army Corps of Engineers, the City College team analyzed the vast, urbanized site in phase one, taking into account environmental, infrastructural, and social risks. Phase two developed a holistic strategy to mitigate these risks when waters rise, utilizing the bay as an ecologically sound, resilient protector of New York City’s vulnerable coastal communities and parklands.
“We’re trying to harness some of the dynamics of the bay,” said City College professor and team leader Catherine Seavitt. “We’re not fully on board with the notion of closing the bay with a storm surge barrier,” a previously pitched strategy.
Utilizing both digital topography modeling and physical models subjected to testing in a water tank, the team was able to visualize the effects of three design strategies applied across nine sites. The first strategy utilizes existing infrastructure, including the Belt Parkway, in conjunction with gates, berms, marshes and maritime forests. Combined, these elements create a continuous, multi-layered line of coastal defense.
The second strategy creates tidal inlets, overwash plains, and flushing tunnels to facilitate bidirectional water flow. Over and underground, the system provides additional inlets and outlets for floodwaters and improves water quality by hastening its exchange between ocean and bay.
The final strategy introduces the concept of an ‘island motor’ where a minimal amount of locally dredged material is strategically deposited in salt water marshes. The material creates a ridge, dubbed an atoll terrace, which encourages the efficacy of natural processes like sedimentation. The ‘motor’ is an organic, perpetual machine for the creation of self-sustaining marsh islands better equipped to absorb storm events.
“By creating a ridge, you’re creating a place for the sand to deposit within the marsh footprint,” said Seavitt.
In the project’s third and final phase, the team will apply localized sea level and storm projections created at Princeton to test the effects of each proposed project. Detailed information on all nine project sites in Jamaica Bay, as well as a collection of topical pamphlets, will be published online.