These Amazon HQ2 finalist cities could be partially underwater in our children’s lifetimes

A screenshot of Esri's sea-level rise map. HQ2 cities are shown as red dots.

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A screenshot of Esri’s sea-level rise map. HQ2 cities are shown as red dots.
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Esri

In January, Amazon announced the top 20 contenders for its $5 billion second headquarters, HQ2. Across North America, more than 200 cities, states, and regions submitted bids for the campus, which is expected to bring 50,000 jobs.

Though not every proposal is fully public, none of the finalist cities – nor Amazon in its RFP – have openly mentioned the ramifications of climate change on HQ2. Climate change-linked events like sea-level rise, hurricanes, and heat waves could affect HQ2’s employees and infrastructure in coming years. Many of the proposed sites are also along waterfronts, which would put HQ2 more at risk of flood damage.

A new analysis from mapping-software company Esri and the IT firm Michael Baker International explores how sea-level rise could threaten each of the HQ2 finalist metro areas. Their study and interactive map suggest that increasing water levels will reshape US coasts by the end of the century.

There are some caveats to the analysis. Since the researchers used US government data, they excluded Toronto, Canada, a finalist city that is already worried about its floodplain. (Toronto Islands saw millions of dollars-worth of flood damage in 2017, when 40% of the Toronto Island Park went underwater due to rising water levels.) The researchers also did not consider other processes that induce flooding, like erosion, subsidence, and construction.

Of the 20 finalists, six US locations risk inundation if water levels rise just three feet – a modest projection of sea-level rise over the next 80 years. The National Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts the country could see up to eight feet of mean sea-level rise by 2100. Landlocked cities in the running for HQ2, like Denver, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, will likely see much less than that.

In the maps below, the dark blue signifies a high chance of inundation if water levels increase at least three feet, while light blue represents a lower chance. Areas that are shaded green are low-lying, meaning they could flood to some degree.

Take a look below.


Miami, Florida

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Esri

South Florida reportedly submitted eight sites to Amazon for HQ2 consideration. These include five in Miami-Dade County, two in Broward County, and one in Palm Beach County, according to The Miami Herald.

Miami (and South Florida in general) is also one of the areas most threatened by sea-level rise in the nation. By 2100, a combination of polar melting, carbon emissions, and ice-sheet collapses could cause chronic flooding to overwhelm large swaths of Miami.


Washington, DC

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The Washington, DC floodplain.
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Esri

The city is offering up a number of sites to Amazon, including Buzzard Point, The Yards, and Poplar Point – all located on the Anacostia River waterfront, which is at risk from sea-level rise.

A 2016 study projects that sea levels outside DC could rise as much as six feet by the end of the century, which could affect the proposed HQ2 sites.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Esri

Philadelphia officials pitched three unfinished developments – Schuylkill Yards, uCity Square, and Navy Yard – that span an estimated 28 million square feet, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Climate Central has estimated that Philadelphia area waters could rise 19 inches by 2050 and 4 feet or more by 2100, putting nearly 2,000 homes and 3,200 residents at risk.


Boston, Massachusetts

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Esri

In Boston’s bid, the city recommended Suffolk Downs racetrack between East Boston and Revere, areas around downtown and the waterfront, the South End/Back Bay area, and the Allston/Brighton area. The first three areas are particularly prone to flooding from storm surges.

As you can see in the map above, Boston features several low-lying areas, making sea-level rise a concern. Earlier this year, two powerful winter storms sent waves surging through the streets.

According to The Boston Globe, city officials have started planning for the worst, driven by projections that water could submerge up to 30% of the city by 2100. Boston sea levels have increased nearly a foot since 1921, according to NOAA.


Newark, New Jersey

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The Newark, NJ floodplain.
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Esri

Newark has proposed seven sites to Amazon, according to Real Estate NJ. While much of the city appears to be safe from flooding, all of these sites are close to the Passaic River (pictured above in blue).

Some researchers expect Newark area water levels to rise over 4 feet by the end of the century.


New York City

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The New York City floodplain.
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Esri

New York has proposed various locations that collectively span over 26 million square feet in Midtown West, the Financial District, the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, and Long Island City.

But sea-level rise doesn’t discriminate by borough in NYC. A child born today will likely see the waters surrounding the city to rise up to six feet higher in their lifetime, according to a 2015 report. Dangerous waves are also now 20 times more likely to overwhelm the Manhattan seawall than they were 170 years ago, according to a recent study.

“There’s coastal real estate at risk, consequences to job creation, and the natural impact of climate on the lowest income residents in New York City and around the globe. People might have to move or migrate,” Daniel Zarrilli, NYC’s Chief Resilience Officer, previously told Business Insider. “It’s pretty profound when you think about the types of economic impacts we’ll see from that. And it will be disruptive.”