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Is Arthur Ashe Stadium sinking? Geological survey sounds the alarm in Queens
The ground beneath the massive tennis stadium is subsiding at a rate nearly three times faster than the rest of the city average, according to a NASA-led study.
Published Sep 29, 2023
As torrential rainfall and extreme conditions dominate the news cycle on Friday in the Northeast, another surreal New York City headline has caught the attention of tennis fans:
Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest arena, appears to be sinking.
To be more specific, all of New York City is sinking at a rate of about 1.6 millimeters per year on average, according to researchers. But the subsidence has been found to be markedly worse in two neighborhoods in northern Queens: LaGuardia Airport and Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open.
According to findings published in Science Magazine on Wednesday, the massive tennis stadium is sinking at a rate nearly three times faster than the rest of the city—about 4.1 millimeters per year.
That makes Arthur Ashe Stadium a “hotspot” among all the locations surveyed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Rutgers' University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
While the figures might seem alarming, the fact that the stadium is sinking is not a huge surprise considering the area’s history. Once covered by a glacier thousands of years ago, the land is subject to glacial isostatic adjustment—meaning it will naturally subside over time.
The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was built on reclaimed marshland that was once used as a landfill—this type of land is famously prone to subsidence, with similar cases found across the world.
In fact, concern for the land beneath Arthur Ashe Stadium was a topic of discussion during the construction of its retractable roof, which was finally unveiled back in 2016. The stability of Corona Park was the major roadblock delaying the construction over the years, with the US Open becoming the last Grand Slam to feature a retractable roof after the men’s final was rain-delayed to Monday for five years in a row.
The solution was called a “triumph of engineering”: Unable to build on top of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the new roof was constructed as a separate structure around the existing arena. Made of Teflon and sitting on steel columns, it was designed to be the most lightweight roof in the sport in order to relieve pressure from the surrounding land. A second roof was constructed over nearby Louis Armstrong Stadium in 2018.
But even these displays of cutting-edge technology couldn’t prevent nature from inevitably taking its course.
Now for the good news, and the bad news: The ground’s sinking is not related to climate change or the recent extreme weather, but it will make the area more susceptible as sea levels continue to rise.