She led scientists advising New York on climate change.  Did the city hear?

She led scientists advising New York on climate change. Did the city hear?

She led scientists advising New York on climate change. Did the city hear?

Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, killing more than 40 people and causing $19 billion in damage. Columbia University researchers played key scientific and policy roles related to the city’s preparation and response to the storm. In this Q&A series 10 years later, we asked many of those who have held important public positions to look back and move forward.

Cynthia Rosenzweig He is a senior research scientist at the Columbia School of Climate, and heads the Climate Impact Group at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Since the 1990s, she has organized and led many large-scale local, national and international studies on the impacts and adaptation of climate change in rural and urban areas. She served as co-chair of New York City Commission on Climate Changea body of experts that Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened to advise the city, from the commission’s inception in 2008 through 2019. By the time Sandy hit, the commission had already gathered a great deal of information about the climate-related threats facing New York City, and what measures should be taken. to be taken by the city.

When did scientists and others begin to think seriously about how extreme weather and rising sea levels would affect New York, and how did you get involved?
I participated for the first time when I participated in driving East Coast Metro Assessment, published by the Columbia Earth Institute in 2002. It was not only the first major study of the effects of climate change in New York City; It was also one of the first studies of how climate change affects urban areas in general. Representatives from FEMA, EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Authority and other agencies were actively involved, so many stakeholders were involved from the start. Disaster preparations, evacuation plans, and policies were in place in Sandy’s time, but they were limited. Sandy was the critical turning point, as it motivated the city to include sea level forecasts in its rebuilding policies. More broadly, it has raised awareness of the importance of the availability of local climate risk information.

In 2008, you were appointed as co-chair of the newly formed New York City Commission on Climate Change. How effective is this committee in presenting climate issues to city officials?
Our first report, published in 2010, was certainly successful in bringing climate change issues to city officials. This is due in large part to the leadership of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, who realized that sustainability could not be addressed without taking into account the growing risks of climate change. That report focused on short- and long-term adaptation measures, by developing the concept of flexible adaptation pathways. In this approach, strategies evolve in response to ongoing assessments of risk and the occurrence of extreme events. Just weeks before Sandy in 2012, passing Local Law 42 Our team is tasked with updating climate change forecasts at least every three years, and within a year of new forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Has the storm changed your or others’ view of what to expect?
Major hurricanes have been part of the New York area for a long time. The rising water level of a tornado in 1821 reached 13 feet in one hour, and in 1893 another tornado swamped southern Brooklyn and Queens. Hurricanes Donna and Gloria in 1960 and 1985, respectively, caused significant damage to Long Island and New Jersey. So we learned that New York should expect an event the size of Hurricane Sandy, with a storm tide of about 14 feet. In 2011, we published forecasts for what the city could expect from a hundred-year storm as sea levels rise. We found that with a height of two feet, a hundred-year storm would significantly increase flood risk, particularly along the shores of Brooklyn and Queens, around Jamaica Bay, and on the Rockaway Peninsula. It was calculated that the metro tunnels would fill up in less than an hour. Sandy proved to be in line with our expectations, but the actual experience was a huge wake-up call. New York City has 520 miles of coastline. Projects must be implemented in all five neighborhoods on an ongoing basis. A continuous system of climate change indicators and monitoring could better guide decision-making. Effective disaster communication and public awareness of risks are central to emergency response.

How well has the city prepared for another Sandy-like event, and climate change in general?
New York has Successfully embed climate change forecasts in rebuilding efforts and policies. The Department of Environmental Protection is developing a city-wide model to better estimate runoff flow for different climate scenarios. All construction projects in areas with anticipated flood risk should provide a resilient design checklist to the city. Engineering projects, including metro gates and storm barriers, are one of three major components in the city’s transformation. Other components are nature-based solutions, and policies such as community programs, zoning, and insurance. An example of a nature-based project is Living Breakwaters, which enhances resilience along Staten Island’s south shore with submerged concrete units that soften waves, reduce erosion, and provide a home for oysters and other marine life. Arguably the city has made the most progress in strengthening coastal protection. The Big U is a 10-mile continuous flood barrier that will encircle the southern tip of Manhattan by 2026. On Coney Island, tidal barriers, water recycling systems, and natural storm water treatment systems are currently being built. Much of this is geared towards infrastructure, but this has been complemented by nature-based solutions, such as sand dune protection, and bio-scales. While many post-Sandy efforts have focused on preparing for long-term risks, sea-level rise is already increasing “sunny day” flooding in low-lying areas. And the hurricane season is not over in 2022. We need to be prepared to respond to small and large impacts in the near term even as we prepare for long-term adaptation.

Should we consider further measures?
Equity must be front and center in all measures of adaptation. Vulnerability to climate change is greater in neighboring lower-income regions, and communities need active participation in decision-making. This is the main focus of the New York Commission’s current considerations. The presence of compound and cascade risks of extreme events must also be considered. For example, heavy rainfall and floods can quickly lead to power outages, water pollution, and the spread of waterborne pathogens. The fields of psychology, trauma-informed care, and public health need to be more integrated into emergency management and preparedness. Finally, this year’s Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Ian in Florida show that we must have a serious discussion about coastal development and the possibility of strategically moving people and infrastructure offshore.

Were you or those close to you personally affected by the storm?
I live in Tarrytown, New York, about 40 minutes north of Manhattan. I spent the storm with my 97-year-old mother. You showed me how vulnerable old people are. We had to leave the house and couldn’t go back for several weeks because of the power, phone lines and internet outages. Many of our neighbors have experienced flooding, basement damage from fallen trees, and the same long-term power outages that we have.

What do you think of the future of New York?
New York is a great city in the world and always will be. It is one of the leaders in preparing for climate change, as well as in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the definition of resilience: the ability to bounce back after adversity, and the ability to prepare, respond, and recover from difficult—and only difficult—conditions.


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