While the news is currently dominated by torrential rainfall and extreme weather conditions in the Northeast, there’s another intriguing headline capturing the attention of tennis enthusiasts: Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest arena, seems to be experiencing a sinking issue.
To be more precise, New York City as a whole is undergoing a gradual subsidence at an average rate of approximately 1.6 millimeters per year, as per research findings. However, it has been observed that this sinking phenomenon is significantly more pronounced in two specific neighborhoods in northern Queens—LaGuardia Airport and Arthur Ashe Stadium.
According to a report published in Science Magazine on Wednesday, Arthur Ashe Stadium, the renowned tennis venue, is sinking at a rate nearly three times faster than the rest of the city, measuring at about 4.1 millimeters per year. This distinctive subsidence rate has designated Arthur Ashe Stadium as a noteworthy “hotspot” among the various locations surveyed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Rutgers’ University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
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While the sinking numbers might raise eyebrows, the fact that Arthur Ashe Stadium is experiencing subsidence isn’t a shocker when you consider the area’s geological history. This region was once covered by a massive glacier thousands of years ago, and as a result, it’s subject to a natural process called glacial isostatic adjustment, which means it will gradually sink over time.
The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was constructed on land that had been reclaimed from marshland and had also served as a landfill in the past. Such reclaimed land is notorious for its tendency to subside, a phenomenon seen in various parts of the world.
Interestingly, concerns about the stability of the ground beneath Arthur Ashe Stadium were already a topic of discussion during the construction of its retractable roof, which was eventually unveiled in 2016. The condition of Corona Park’s terrain posed a significant challenge that had delayed the construction process for years. As a result, the US Open became the last of the Grand Slam tournaments to feature a retractable roof, primarily because the men’s final had been consistently delayed due to rain for five consecutive years.
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The solution to the sinking issue at Arthur Ashe Stadium was nothing short of an engineering triumph. Since it wasn’t feasible to build directly on top of the stadium, a new roof was meticulously crafted as a separate structure surrounding the existing arena. This innovative roof was constructed using lightweight materials like Teflon and supported by sturdy steel columns. The design aimed to create the lightest roof in the world of sports, effectively alleviating any additional pressure on the sinking land. Furthermore, a second roof was added to the nearby Louis Armstrong Stadium in 2018, showcasing cutting-edge technology in action.
However, even with these remarkable engineering feats, nature continues to follow its course.
Now, onto the brighter and less fortunate news: The subsiding ground isn’t a consequence of climate change or recent extreme weather events. Nevertheless, it does pose a challenge, as the area becomes more vulnerable to the rising sea levels that are an outcome of ongoing environmental changes.