New York’s flood sensor network will soon expand across the city

The FloodNet project received a $7.2 million grant to monitor 500 flood-prone sites.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

New York City’s first flood-monitoring network is set to expand. Thanks to $7.2 million in funding from the city, the number of flood-prone areas FloodNet monitors with its sensors will increase from 31 to 500 across all five boroughs. The expansion is expected to start next month and take up to five years.

Data from the sensors is fed into a free web dashboard that residents, city agencies, researchers and anyone else can use to stay on top of and react to flood threats. The dashboard receives water-level readings from the sensors in real time. An interactive map shows where, when and how rapidly water is rising, whether that's due to seawater surges at the coast or stormwater drains not being able to handle floods. The dashboard also includes historical data, which can help people to track the frequency and severity of floods over time.

Researchers from New York University, The City University of New York, Brooklyn College and the Science and Resilience Institute developed FloodNet. They had assistance from the mayor's Office of Climate & Environmental Justice, the NYC Office of Technology & Innovation and neighborhood community groups.

FloodNet's solar-powered sensors are low cost and open-source. They use ultrasound to measure changes in water levels and wirelessly transfer data to a gateway hub, which then sends the information to FloodNet's servers and the dashboard.

Sea levels in the city have risen by a foot in the last century, according to the New York City Panel on Climate Change. They're expected to increase by between another eight and 30 inches by around 2050, and between 15 and 75 inches by the end of the century. More detailed flood data can help city planners and others prepare for permanent water level rises, along with weather events like hurricanes that can quickly wreak havoc.