NYU is building a network of ultrasonic flood sensors in New York’s Gowanus neighborhood

Peveryone did some 760 million rides on New York’s subway system last year. Okay, that’s from around 1.7 thousands of billions tripspre-pandemic, but still outstripping the next two largest transit systems – DC .’s Metro and Chicago Transportation Authority – combine. So when the storms are big, like the remnants of last year’s hurricane Idanor natural disasters, torrential downpours or high tides flooding New York’s coastal areas and low-lying infrastructure, which is a big deal.

The subway service announcement is seen at 63rd Avenue St.  and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan in the early afternoon after the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused severe flooding in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in New York, U.S., September 2, 2021. REUTERS / Jonathan Oatis

Jonathan Oatis / router

And it’s an agreement that’s only gotten bigger thanks to climate change. The sea level around the city has grew a leg in the last century with another 8 to 30 inches of increase expected by mid-century and up to an additional 75 inches by 2100, according to the New York City Climate Change Commission. Researchers from NYU Urban Flooding Team developed a street level sensor system that can monitor street tides in real time.

New York City sits atop a series of low-lying islands and has affected by mid-Atlantic storms throughout its history. In 1821, a hurricane is said to have hit the city directly, flooding the streets and piers with 13-foot-high clouds that rose in just an hour; A subsequent Cat I storm in 1893 then wiped out all signs of civilization from Hog Island, and a Cat III storm passed over Long Island, killing 200 people and causing massive flooding. Things did not improve with the introduction of storm naming conventions. Carol in 1954 also caused citywide flooding, Donna in 1960 brought an 11-foot storm with her, and Ida in 2021 saw an unprecedented amount of rain and flooding. next in the region, killing more than 100 people and causing nearly a billion dollars in damage.

NYC Flood Zone


As the NYC Department of Planning explains, when it comes to establishing building, zoning, and planning rules, the city will rely on FEMA’s Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (PFIRMs) to calculate an area’s flood risk. PFIRM include areas that, “Floodwater is expected to rise during a flood with a 1% annual probability”, sometimes referred to as a 100-year floodplain. As of 2016, approximately 52 million square feet of NYC shoreline falls within that classification, affecting 400,000 residents — more than the entire population of Cleveland, Tampa or St. Louis. By 2050, that affected area is expected to double, and the 100-year probability of a flood could triple, meaning your home will face flooding. significantly over the course of a 30-year mortgage will increase from about 26% today to nearly 80 percent by mid-century.

500 year floodplain NYC


Therefore, responding to flooding now while preparing for worse events in the future is an important task for the NYC government, requiring coordination between government and NGOs. government at the local, state and federal levels. FloodNet, a program first launched by NYU and expanded with help from CUNY, works on a hyperlocal level to provide a street-by-street view of flooding in a given neighborhood. The program begins with the NYU Urban Flooding Team.

“We are essentially designing, building, and deploying low-cost sensors to measure street flooding,” said Dr. Andrea Silverman, environmental engineer and Associate Professor at NYU’s Faculty of Civil and Civil Engineeringtold Engadget. “The idea is that it can provide much-needed quantitative data. Before FloodNet, there was no quantitative data on flooding at the street level, so people weren’t really fully aware of the inundation frequency of certain locations – such as flood duration, intensity depth, starting speed and draining. “

Working inside FloodNet

Urban Flooding Team, NYU

“And this is all useful information for infrastructure planning, for one, but also for emergency management,” she continued. “So we have our data available, they send out alerts to see who’s interested, like the National Weather Service and emergency management, to help inform their response.”

FloodNet is currently in the early stages of development with just 23 sensor units installed on 8-foot poles in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, though the team hopes to expand that network to more than 500 units. throughout the city over the next half-decade. Each FloodNet sensor is a self-contained solar system that uses ultrasonic waves as an invisible rangefinder – as floodwaters rise, the distance between the road surface and the sensor narrows, calculating the The difference between that data and the basic indicator shows that water levels have increased. The NYU team opted for an ultrasound-based solution rather than LiDAR or RADAR, as the ultrasound technology is slightly cheaper and provides more centralized, accurate, and maintenance-required return data. Basic contact water sensor.

The data each sensor generates is transmitted wirelessly using a LoRa transceiver to a gateway hub, which can be pulled from any sensor within a mile radius and pushed it over the internet to the FloodNet servers. . The data is then displayed in real time on the FloodNet Homepage.

Floodnet map of NYC

Flood control group URban, NYU

“The city has invested heavily in predictive models [estimating] Silverman said. She points out that the sensors won’t have to be installed in every corner to be most effective. There are “certain locations that are more likely to flood because of topology or drainage networks or because of proximity to the coast, for example. And so we use those models to try to understand the locations that might be most vulnerable to flooding,” as well as reaching out to locals with first-hand knowledge of the areas. there is a possibility of flooding.

Silverman notes that to be able to implement the program further, the sensors will need to be slightly redesigned. “The next version of the sensor, we’re taking what we’ve learned from the current version and making it a bit easier to manufacture,” she said. “We’re in the process of testing that and then we’re hoping to start the first round of production and that’s what will allow us to expand.”

FloodNet is an open source venture, so all sensor diagrams, firmware, maintenance manuals and data are freely available on the group’s GitHub page. “Obviously you need to have some technical know-how to be able to build them – it may not be a place where anyone can build a sensor, deploy it, and get it online right away. , in terms of being able to generate data, but we’re trying to get there,” admitted Silverman. “Ultimately, we want to get to a place where we can write designs in a way that is accessible to anyone.”

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