Monday, February 14, 2011

NASA’s Ames Research Center event -Adapting to Climate Change

Written for
By Jeanine Lewis
Edited and Research by Heather Durham

Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change Risks Symposium
NASA’s Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, CA

Adapting to Climate Change
How all these summer like days in the dead of winter are hazardous to our Health

Dr. Ann Clark, Chief of the Environmental Management Division at NASA Ames Research Center, opened with the quote “May you live in interesting times.” Data collected since the beginning of the 20th Century in the Bay Area point to two undeniable facts: sea levels and temperatures are rising. Those do make for interesting times, but why the concerns? NASA Ames Research Center invited leaders of the environmental fields to share hypothesis on just how interesting our lives will get if we continue with status-quo and ignore those two undeniable facts. From February 1-3, 2011, the Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change Risk Workshop facilitated lectures on global, local, and regional climate changes in the hopes of sharing concerns and possible solutions. On February 4th, NASA Ames held a symposium for environmental-focused press to also be included in the discussions. Dr. Clark continued by commenting “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” Well, let’s see how far this rabbit hole goes.

What is the problem?
Our climate is changing; it is getting warmer. During heat waves, even a small increase in temperature can mean a large increase in energy consumption which will lead to an increase risk of power outages. The increase in temperature will put stress on our systems. It also impacts our infrastructure by the increase in structural damage from flooding and wave action. The encroachment of saltwater on freshwater sources will grossly and negatively impact our drinking water. As the sea level is on the rise, there will be increase of delays on public transportation and low-lying highways.

How did we come into this problem?
“Both human and natural factors represent historical climate” Dr. Radley Horton, Columbia University Associate Research Scientist at the Center of Climate Systems Research at GISS, commented regarding Greenhouse Gas emissions. Natural admissions like volcanoes and sunspot cycles as well as man-made factors such as aerosol emissions and land-use changes have contributed to the increase of our Greenhouse gases. Dr. Horton named various potential impacts of sea level rise; flooding reducing emergency response capabilities, salivation of water supply and freshwater ecosystems, and coastal flooding. Dr. Max Loewenstein, a research scientist in the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center, reported that in the last 100 years, we have seen the sea level rise by 8 inches, but by 2050, it is projected to be 16 inches higher. Human activities are expected to be a driving factor behind the 21st century climate change. “Even the most remote climate change may have large impacts locally” Dr. Horton continued. Here in the Central Valley for instance, with our increasing heat levels, evaporation also increased, which results in the decrease of available clean water.

Who will be affected?
NASA’s Office of Strategic Infrastructure (OSI) has identified three main systems that will be the most affected by climate change; the workforce, buildings, and nature. “We intend to develop sound plans to address the impact to our workforce for water and temperature, address the built environment effectively, which will address most of the concerns regarding workforce and natural resources” Olga Dominguez, Assistant Administrator for the OSI relayed.

Important buildings, such as the San Francisco International Airport and the Giants Stadium, are below sea level. In 2100, the sea level is projected to rise back to the level we lost by various landfill efforts on which those buildings are built.

California wine is a 30 billion dollar industry and is directly affected by Greenhouse Gas emissions and the availability of clean water. Accurate forecasting will help to improve the vintages by making sure the soil moisture is at the appropriate level. Call the alarm! This is obviously the most important facet to preserve.

How do we attempt to solve it?

First, we must prioritize the important structures already in place that are vulnerable, then develop initial adaptation strategies, link strategies to capital and rehabilitation cycles, identify opportunities for coordination, prepare and implement adaptation plans, monitor and reassess. After the Save the Wine campaign gets underway, we will address the Giants Stadium. Who’s with me!?

Dominguez reports what her office is doing to solve the infrastructure part. “For the first time, infrastructure specialist and scientist are working together to learn how to plan for climate change for the purpose of sustainability.”

Will Travis, Executive Director of San Francisco Bay Conversation and Development Commission weighed in by saying; “In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to build housing around jobs. We need to encourage our Government to build communities that residents can walk, bike or take public transportation to.” In synopsis, decrease the necessity to drive such long distances to get to the things we need. It is very common for Bay Area residents to have an average commute time of 45 minutes due to lack of affordable housing close to industry. Imagine being able to buy a house you can afford within 20 minutes, door-to-door, from home to work. Is this sheer brilliance or just common sense? Well, it is certainly a novel idea to say the least.
NASA scientists are going beyond just monitoring climate change; they are actively coming up with solutions.

NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) launched the Flexible Adaptation Pathways (FAP) strategy for New York City based on a London model, which is catching quite a bit of attention. “New York City and the California Bay Area are the first responders to solve the climate change issue” – Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at GISS. FAP identifies the multiple facets of climate change hazards and the uncertainty associated with each and provides a standard timeless policy that will work in all situations. The platform of FAP is to take each aspect of climate hazards, impacts, and adaptation needs to be continually considered and re-evaluated as new information comes to light. For example, a first step is to conduct inventory of infrastructure and assets to begin identifying vulnerabilities. Secondly, characterize risk by assessing the likelihood of the hazard causing an impact, then reduce the level of physical, social, or economic impact of climate change. Additionally, take advantage of new opportunities of the emerging climate change, such like Dr. Rosenzweig’s project to build more pumps at the Rockaway wastewater treatment plant in New York that helped to raise it 14 feet above sea level. This was part of a drainage and wastewater Management Adaptation. Rainwater drainage improves collection.

Another example would be to enhance natural landscape and drainage to plan for controlled flooding. FAP system can be implemented in cities around the country, especially San Francisco Bay Area that closely relates to the infrastructure of New York City. Dr. Rosenzweig suggests going through the city’s sustainability office to being stakeholders, university scholars, scientists, legal, insurance, and risk management experts to develop a plan like FAP to work for their community. “Identify, characterize, and understand nonlinear tipping points, triggers, and decide how to solve it systemically” Dr. Rosenzweig advises.

Who is supposed to pay for all this?

There are various companies, stakeholders, and organizations that have a vested interest in creating a systemic solution to climate change. Dr. Loewenstein suggests Research & Development collaborations and partnerships with groups dealing with observation, atmospheric composition, and ecosystem forecasting to name a few. Steve Hipskind, Chief of the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames Research, also suggests non-traditional partnerships like the Pipeline Research Council International and Cisco’s Climate Program. Collaboration with venture capitalist firms, technology institutions, green builders, and graduate students will facilitate new ideas with funding to take action.

Knowing the problem is only the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg. The success of the symposium was that it offered a multitude of solutions. We all have a vested interest in adapting to climate change.

See some of this event soon with show in San Jose Channel 15 on Monday’s at 7:30pm and Santa Cruz County channel 26 on Sunday’s at 6:00pm.

If you would like a historical copy of this program at NASA, when show edits are complete, please send $25.00 (for pre-orders) and $5.00 for shipping (to most US cities, more out of the Country) to P. O Box 2428 San Jose CA, 95109. Check Payable to Executive Producer Heather Durham.

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Photos: Jeanine Lewis
Lake Mead 1985 and 2010

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