Climate study: New York City at risk of flooding every two decades

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NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hurricanes could start flooding New York City's coastline as often as every 20 years due to the effects of climate change on sea-level rise and hurricane activity, scientists said on Monday.

Water could surge some 9 feet (2.8 meters) in hurricanes occurring anywhere from three to 17 times more often than today, they said.

"That's approximately - worst case scenario - once every 20 years," said Benjamin Horton, part of a team of U.S. scientists who published their findings in a study.

The projections act as a reminder of the human cost of climate change, said Horton, in particular after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the southeastern United States over the weekend.

"The inundations from hurricanes will affect where we live, it will affect how we work, it will cause problems with the ecosystem," said Horton, a professor of sea level research at New Jersey-based Rutgers University.

"It's very bleak."

RELATED: Click through photos of flood damage caused by Hurricane Matthew:

26 PHOTOS
Aerial photos show North Carolina flooding from Hurricane Matthew
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Aerial photos show North Carolina flooding from Hurricane Matthew
A group of people are seen walking through flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view shows a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A swift water rescue team is seen making its way through a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A tractor trailer is seen in flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
Fuel tanks are seen after flood waters rose due to Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A boat is seen carrying residents from a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A man walks through flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aerial view shows a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A boat is seen in the flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
Homes are seen underwater after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A home is seen under water after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A national guard vehicle is seen driving through a flooded street after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A car drives through flood waters along interstate 95 after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view shows flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of the flood after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
People are seen walking on an elevated path as flood waters surround them after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view shows flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of the flood after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of the flood after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A swift water rescue team is seen making its way through a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A swift water rescue team is seen making its way through a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An areal view shows a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
An aerial view of a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
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The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences aimed to measure how frequently floods like those produced by Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. states of New York and New Jersey could occur until 2100.

Sandy devastated the northeastern U.S. coast in 2012, including coastal areas of New York City, killing more than 120 people and causing some $70 billion of property damage.

Under a scenario in which the climate remained as it is today, Sandy-like hurricanes would occur about once every 400 years, Horton said.

Shielding humans from more frequent flooding would require an enormous undertaking to protect coastal areas and New York, a city of 8.5 million people, he said.

"Something like that periodically hitting the coastline, it would result in incredible engineering projects, up and down the U.S. seaboard, to protect society," Horton told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

The projections highlight the importance of slashing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, he said.

The study is based on a combination of historical data and computer model projections.

It was the first to make projections by accounting for how climate change could contribute to rising seas and hurricane activity, said Ning Lin, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at Princeton University in New Jersey.

A new global agreement to tackle climate change will take effect on Nov. 4 after the accord, known as the Paris Agreement, crossed an important threshold for support last week.

Relive the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy:

35 PHOTOS
Hurricane Sandy through pics
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Hurricane Sandy through pics
Raymond Souza carries away a ladder after boarding up Tidal Rave's 5 & 10 gift shop on the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, October 28, 2012 ahead of Hurricane Sandy's landfall. US emergency officials braced for the potentially massive impact of a so-called 'Frankenstorm' Sunday as Hurricane Sandy lumbered north in the Atlantic Ocean, poised to hit the eastern seaboard with torrential rains and gale-force winds. The superstorm was expected to make landfall somewhere between Virginia and Massachusetts early Tuesday, possibly causing chaos during the frenzied last days of campaigning before the November 6 US presidential vote. As it churned in a northeasterly direction, the massive weather system was at category one strength, the lowest-level hurricane on the five-tiered Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SCITUATE, MA - OCTOBER 29: Waves crash over a jetty with Scituate Lighthouse and homes in the background as Hurricane Sandy arrives along the coast of Massachusetts. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29: A man walks past a barricaded subway entrance near Battery Park during the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012 in New York City. The core of Sandy's force is supposed to hit the New York area Monday night. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
LINDENHURST, NY - OCTOBER 29: Joseph Arpaio of Massapequa abondons his car on 5th Street in Lindenhurst as high tide, rain and winds flood local streets on October 29, 2012 in Lindenhurst, New York. The storm, which threatens 50 million people in the eastern third of the U.S., is expected to bring days of rain, high winds and possibly heavy snow. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Cars floating in a flooded subterranian basement following Hurricaine Sandy on October 30, 2012 in the Financial District of New York, United States. The storm has claimed at least 33 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. US President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the US East Coast including New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: A downed tree in Capitol Hill after the passing of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
FALMOUTH, MA - OCTOBER 29: A man drives around a fallen tree on Locust Street in Falmouth during Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A partially collapsed crane hangs from a 90-story residential building under construction on West 57th Street in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Atlantic superstorm Sandy may cut U.S. economic growth as it keeps millions of employees away from work and shuts businesses from restaurants to refineries in one of the nationâs most populated and productive regions. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People are evacuated from a neighborhood in Little Ferry, New Jersey, one day after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast on October 30, 2012. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
Backyard furniture sits in disarray at the Ice House bar in the Red Hook neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Matthew Leising/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People look at a tree which fell during Hurricane Sandy in the Brooklyn borough of New York on October 30, 2012. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO /Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
COLD SPRING HARBOR, NY - OCTOBER 30: Residents view downed trees completely blocking Cold Spring Harbor Road in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. The storm has claimed at least a few dozen lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A fleet of taxis sits submerged in water in Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. The Atlantic storm Sandy left a landscape of devastation across much of New Jersey, tearing apart seaside resort towns, ripping houses from foundations and littering the turnpike with rail cars and debris. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: A firefighter looks through debris of a fire that destroyed over 50 homes during Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in the Breezy Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. At least 33 people were reported killed in the United States by Sandy as millions of people in the eastern United States have awoken to widespread power outages, flooded homes and downed trees. New York City was hit especially hard with wide spread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: A man looks through the debris of his destroyed home after Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in the Rockaway section of the Queens borough of New York City. At least 40 people were reportedly killed in the U.S. by Sandy as millions of people in the eastern United States have awoken to widespread power outages, flooded homes and downed trees. New York City was hit especially hard with wide spread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, NY - OCTOBER 30: A boat sits on the dock at the East Marina in Point Lookout on October 30, 2012 in Long Beach, New York. The storm has claimed at least 40 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. US President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the US East Coast including New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA- OCTOBER 30: A giant tree rests on the home at 804 S Overlook Drive in the Beverly Hills Alexandria neighborhood on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012. Neighbors said the owners left last night after the tree fell during the storm. (Photo by Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CHESAPEAKE BEACH, MD - OCTOBER 30: A downed tree and power lines block Rt. 261 in Calvert County just south of Chesapeake Beach on Tuesday morning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in Chesapeake Beach, MD, on October 30, 2012. (Photo by Ray K. Saunders /The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Massive fires destroyed 110 homes in Breezy Point, Queens as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Pictures taken during height of fire about 1 a.m. Oct 30, 2012. (Photo by Todd Maisel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: A PEPCO worker cuts a wire on a damaged utility pole on Idaho street after historic storm Sandy passes through on October, 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
People stand outside their apartment building October 31, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy which made landfall along the New Jersey shore, has left parts of the state and the surrounding area flooded and without power. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport remain stranded on October 31, 2012 even as the airport resumes some service after being closed due to Hurricane Sandy. Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports, both of which serve New York City, reopened Wednesday morning after being closed for days by Hurricane Sandy, the local port authority said. Two New York airports and Wall Street reopened, but the crippled subway system, traffic-clogged roads and large areas still without power pose a daunting hurdle before the Big Apple can declare itself back to normal. AFP PHOTO /Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama comforts Hurricane Sandy victim Dana Vanzant as he visits a neighborhood in Brigantine, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
LINDENHURST, NY - OCTOBER 31: Gary Silberman looks out to an area that was his bedroom after it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy on October 31, 2012 in Lindenhurst, New York, United States. The storm has claimed many lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City, with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ - OCTOBER 31: Rescue workers gather around a house wrecked by Superstorm Sandy on October 31, 2012 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. At least 50 people were reportedly killed in the U.S. by Sandy with New Jersey suffering massive damage and power outages. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WAREHAM, MA - OCTOBER 31: Donald B. Hall had a kayak land inside a window at his home on Circuit Avenue after a microburst hit that was caused by remnants of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] The American Red Cross Shelter set up at Whitman High School in Huntington Station, N.Y. just two days after Hurricane Sandy struck Long Island. 10-31-12
HAZLET TOWNSHIP, NJ - NOVEMBER 01: A man fills up jerry cans with gasoline as others wait in line on November 1, 2012 in Hazlet township, New Jersey. United States. Superstorm Sandy, which has left millions without power or water, continues to effect business and daily life throughout much of the eastern seaboard. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ - NOVEMBER 1: The roller coaster at the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ on Nov. 1. The boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HIGHLANDS, NJ - NOVEMBER 01: An abandoned trailer home, with the words, 'Bye-bye Paradise, it was nice while it lasted,' spray painted on its side, is seen in the Paradise Park trailer Park on November 1, 2012 in Highlands, New Jersey. Superstorm Sandy, which has left millions without power or water, continues to affect business and daily life throughout much of the eastern seaboard. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Scenes of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath in the Breezy Point part of Far Rockawayon November 1, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Aby Baker/Getty Images)
American flag flies above a burned out Breezy Point, Queens in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by David Handschuh/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
KEYPORT, NJ - NOVEMBER 02: Boats once docked in Brown's Point Marina lie against a pier after being tossed by Superstorm Sandy on November 2, 2012 in Keyport, New Jersey. Keyport is a haven for boaters, resulting in hundreds of boats being scattered and/or wrecked, and several marinas destroyed. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
A rescue center is being organized by volunteers in the gymnasium next to St Gertrude's Church as New York recovers from Hurricane Sandy on November 4, 2012 in Far Rockaway, New York. Veterans of the campaign to bring Wall Street to a standstill are now in an army of volunteers helping the tens of thousands in a crippled district of New York one week after superstorm Sandy struck. Hundreds of volunteers have poured into Far Rockaway, a poor working class district on the fringes of New York City, which endured an horrific storm last Monday. AFP PHOTO / Veronique DUPONT (Photo credit should read Veronique DUPONT/AFP/Getty Images)
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