Looking at Climate from All the Angles

Earth’s cloud cover. Photo: NASA

(First published on Dec. 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

After record-setting warmth this year, winter is upon us. That means it’s summer in Antarctica, and the Earth Institute has scientists camped there working on two projects that will help us understand what’s going on in this climate-changing world.

Margie Turrin of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is filing dispatches and stunning photos from the IceBridge project. Researchers are studying polar ice (a similar program operates in northern summers in Greenland). Flying back and forth across the Antarctic Peninsula, they’re using sensitive instruments to measure the stability of the ice sheets and the tongues of ice shelves that stretch out over the ocean. A second team working on the ROSETTA project is looking at sea temperature and its effects on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average, with impacts that will reach far beyond the far north. The melting season in some areas of Greenland is 30 to 40 days longer than in recent decades, said Lamont scientist Marco Tedesco, who helped write the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2016 Arctic Report Card. The report was presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. (For more on that key meeting of scientists and the Earth Institute’s role, look here.)

“In other places, going from 75 F to 80 F might not make such a great difference,” Tedesco told NPR. “But if you cross the melting point, you are basically stepping into a completely new world.”

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Housing in New York City: Updating the History

A design for a low-rise “perimeter block” of apartments in Brooklyn. Image from the “History of Housing in New York City” and architects Cooper Robertson & Partners.

(First published on Oct. 17, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

More than a quarter century ago, Richard Plunz, director of the Urban Design Lab, wrote a detailed history of housing in New York City—from the first Dutch settlers through the rapid expansion that replaced farms, fields and streams with the modern Manhattan grid. Now he has updated the book to provide some perspective on recent decades, which have witnessed significant changes in the structure and distribution of the city’s housing—gentrification, loss of affordable housing stock, an explosion of luxury high rises and a shift from population loss to growth.

With the average apartment sale price at $1.87 million as of 2015, the impact on low-income residents and newcomers of the high-end trend is a key issue for Plunz, a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

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Study Warns of Surge in Heat-Related Deaths in New York City

Looking across the Ed Koch (Queensborough) Bridge, June 6, 2011. Photo: Chris Goldberg / Creative Commons

(First published on June 29, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

A new study projects that as many as 3,331 people a year could be dying from the heat during New York City summers by 2080 as a result of the warming climate. That compares to 638 heat-related deaths on average between 2000 and 2006.

Efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling a hotter climate could substantially reduce the toll. So would efforts to help people adapt, such as more widespread use of air conditioning and the creation of public “cooling centers.” Broader efforts to cool the city, such as planting more trees and installing reflective roofs that absorb less heat, would also help.

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Get the Facts: Arsenic in New Jersey Well Water

(First published on June 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

A new initiative aims to help homeowners in New Jersey cope with arsenic contamination in private wells—a problem that has only come to light in recent years, and about which many homeowners are still unaware.

In a series of fact sheets and student-produced videos, the project provides important information about the problem to help homeowners understand what may be going on, and how to clean up their water. To watch the videos and read up on the problem, go to the New Jersey Arsenic Awareness Initiative website.

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From Top to Bottom: Scientists Map a New Island Volcano

An animation created by Vicki Ferrini of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the topography of a new island formed by an explosive volcano in the southwestern Pacific.

(First published on May 4, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

One of the earth’s newest islands exploded into view from the bottom of the southwest Pacific Ocean in January 2015, and scientists sailing around the volcano this spring have created a detailed map of its topography. You can see an animation of the volcano, mostly underwater, by clicking on the above image.

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Study Downgrades Groundwater Contribution to Sea Level Rise

Groundwater pumping for agriculture and other uses has risen sharply. But a new study says it isn’t contributing as much as previously thought to sea level rise.

(First published on May 3, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Some research suggests that, along with melting ice sheets and glaciers, the water pumped from underground for irrigation and other uses, on the rise worldwide, could contribute substantially to rising sea levels over the next 50 years. A new study published in Nature Climate Change says the magnitude is much lower than previously estimated.

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How to Rethink Urban Transit, and Pay for It, Too

New York subway construction in the beginning of the 20th century. Aging infrastructure hampers the system’s efficiency. Photo: NY Public Library Digital Collections

(First published on April 19, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Cities around the world are growing, creating pressure to provide adequate transportation systems to get people to and from their work and homes. In New York City, the population is growing again after decades of suburban flight, which focused much of public and private transportation spending on accommodating people traveling in cars.

Public transit systems around New York face increasing pressure from both an aging infrastructure and the need to carry more and more people. According to PlaNYC, subway ridership is the highest it’s been in over 60 years; 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail; more than 4,000 public buses carry more than 650 million riders throughout New York City each year.

A key question is how will we pay for these systems—both to fix the deteriorating infrastructure, and to pay for ongoing operations. This is a familiar topic for Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at the Columbia School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute.

In a new book, Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment,” Sclar and other researchers lay out the issues facing cities and offer new ways to think about who pays for public transportation, and how and why this can be changed. The new book continues lines of thinking from an earlier volume, Urban Access for the 21st Century.

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