by Christine Schiffner
NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Klaus Jacob and his wife live in a beautiful historic home in a picturesque village right on the Hudson River 45 minutes North of New York. The Columbia University research scientist still remembers how a few years ago, his wife fell in love with this house on Paradise Avenue and its river views.
Since Klaus Jacob's research at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory focuses on coastal hazards induced by global climate change, he understood the risk factors of buying a home so close to the water. He even took the costly precaution of elevating the whole house onto a higher foundation to make it flood-proof. His investment didn't pay off.
On the night of Oct. 29 when Hurricane Sandy made landfall he and his wife spent hours carrying as many valuables as they could up to the higher floors of their house.
"That's how high the water was," he said, pointing at a black line he drew on the outside wall of his home. "Shoulder-high from where I stand which means everything from the floor up to here was of course flooded."
More than three weeks after the storm, he is still the only resident living on Paradise Avenue. His neighbors have not returned yet as power lines have to be replaced, heat and hot water boilers need to be repaired. Dirty, soaked furniture and other debris are piling up on the side of the street.
Klaus Jacob is aware that the flood may not have been the last one to affect his neighborhood.
"We expect sea level rise scenarios that have been adopted by the New York City Panel on Climate Change that a flood like that would occur once every one to three years by the end of this century," he said.
A study released this week by the World Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact emphasizes that world climate goals aiming at a temperature increase of a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius are unlikely to be met.
A temperature increase of 3 to 3.5 degrees Celsius is now considered probable. The sea level rise associated with these kind of scenarios could lead to potentially devastating problems for coastal cities not only in the United States but also in Africa and Asia.
In an interview with Xinhua in December 2011, Klaus Jacob explained the findings of a Columbia University study he co-authored outlining the flood risks for New York City and its surrounding low-lying areas.
"We are playing Russian Roulette," he said then. "It could happen tomorrow, it can happen in 10 years. But we should act as soon as possible. We have to start with the most critical areas in downtown Manhattan in the vicinity of Wall Street and Battery Park."
Hurricane Sandy caused wide-spread flooding and several-day-long power outages in Lower Manhattan. The storm also led to a two-day shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange.
The research institute Eqecat estimates that the losses from superstorm Sandy could amount to 30 to 50 billion U.S. dollars.
"There has been destruction of property, of houses, cars, destruction of infrastructure, roads and rail lines and so our assets have diminished," Larry White, New York University Stern School of Business economist told Xinhua. "Further, because of the disruption, there was less economic activity, people couldn't get to work, stores couldn't open and so on."
Klaus Jacob is hoping that Hurricane Sandy was perhaps a game changer. He said that local as well as federal authorities should now start to cooperate and develop a barrier system to protect the coastal areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Huge investments will be required to protect New York against future storms. The construction of sea walls or other barriers will pose huge engineering challenges as New York's water ways are the busiest on the U.S. East Coast.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signaled that the fight against global climate change will be a priority for him in light of Hurricane Sandy.
Klaus Jacob believes that New York could lead the way "about how to make a sustainable livelihood for coastal cities around the world."
Meanwhile, The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet for their next Climate Change Conference in Doha on Monday, Nov. 26 to discuss the risks of global warming on a larger scale. Scientists doubt that the conference will produce any specific commitments to effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions.