Preserving New England Lobster Fisheries in the Face of Climate Change

By Thomas Isabel, Hannah Brady, and Shawn Monast

Since the 1970’s, the waters off the coast of Southern New England have been warming at a startling rate due to a toxic combination of man-made factors including greenhouse gases and pollution. These changes to the Earth’s atmosphere are happening at a rapid pace, making climate change one of the biggest issues facing humanity. The aqua life inhabiting oceans, especially coastal waters, are being forced farther North into ocean environments with cooler temperatures fitting their ideal thermal range. One of the many species being affected by increasing water temperature is the American lobster, scientifically known as the Homarus Americanus. These ocean creatures have been around for almost 500 million years, long before any humans were recorded on Earth, and they are now being pushed out of their homes as a consequence of human actions. Although lobsters constantly face different challenges to their populations such as predation and disease, climate change has become their biggest threat in the last decade. Fishermen all along the Eastern coastline rely on the catch and sale of lobsters to make a living to support their families and keep the market afloat. Without this species, fishermen and seafood establishments would miss out on a potentially crucial portion of revenue and be forced to rely on the catch and sale of other ocean species or perhaps a different profession in the fishing industry. The American lobster makes up a large percentage of income for fisherman and their migration due to global warming is crippling the economy of coastal regions. In order to save lobster fisheries in southern New England from climate change, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission needs to educate fishermen on the constant changes in thermal temperatures range, new production possibilities, and the migration patterns through technological advancements.  

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Green Grass: An Eco Friendly Label for the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry

Marijuana grow sites can be incredibly large, which increases its already intense energy consumption (Image:

Britnay Beaudry: Environmental Science major

Colin Radon: Horticulture major

Pierce Strumpf: Natural Resource Conservation major

The legalization of  marijuana, which went into effect in Massachusetts on December 15th, 2016 was a triumphant victory for marijuana activists and state government. (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2018).  Support for this policy change can be seen in the record setting attendance of events like the Boston Freedom Rally, and Extravaganja (Hilliard & Crimaldi, 2017; Tidwell, 2018). But, while marijuana activists have been celebrating their new freedoms, the Cannabis Control Commission [CCC] has been busy writing draft legislation to regulate the budding marijuana industry (CCC, 2018). Starting July 2018, the CCC will begin reviewing applications of recreational marijuana growers (Hilliard & Crimaldi, 2017, para. 20). Many growers are eager for reform and see this as an opportunity to turn their operations legitimate. But before they can receive the necessary permits, they will be expected to reduce their notoriously high energy demands (Dumcius, 2018) The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs [EEA] and the CCC have been meticulously developing strict regulations to reduce the carbon footprint of marijuana production(EEA, 2018; CCC 2018)  Some growers fear that the regulations, which includes plans to force led lighting on new growers, will cripple the industry before it even has a chance to take off (Dumcius, 2018). “If the commission’s trying to ensure that Massachusetts is known as a state with poor-quality product and high prices this is a great way to do it” Says Kris Kane president of a cannabis consulting company known as 4Front Ventures (Dumcius, 2018, para. 4). Disagreement over environmental regulations threaten to delay the quickly approaching application process. If Marijuana growers refuse to compromise on the bill, the fate of the marijuana industry could go up in smoke. Continue Reading

Solving Hurricanes With Carbon Tax

Can you look this monster in the eye?

Devin Barros: Natural Resource Conservation

Marco Petrosillo: Turf Grass Science and Management

Kyle Vanderhorst: Environmental Science


The term hurricane is derived from Huracan, the name of a Mayan storm god. Over its lifetime, one of these massive storms can release as much energy as a million Hiroshima nuclear bombs (NS). A tropical storm becomes a category 1 hurricane (or cyclone or typhoon) when winds reach sustained speeds of 120 kilometers per hour (kph). A hurricane becomes category 2 when sustained winds hit 154 kph, category 3 at 179 kph, category 4 at 210 kph, and finally the most devastating variety, category 5, when wind speeds hit 250 kph (NS). As you can tell, the reference to a storm god is no understatement.  Hurricanes have always been violent storms; now they’re causing more damage and killing more people than ever before. Will we sit back and watch as the numbers climb, or will we do something about it? Storm activity has been increasing with the changing climate, especially in the northern hemisphere (Emanuel, K., Sundararajan, R., Williams, J. 2008). Climate change is the reason for the increase of storm surge, wind speeds, and the duration.The increase in the duration of hurricanes, storm surge which is essentially sea level rise, and the increase in wind speeds are the three components that are causing the increase in intensity. Emanuel et al. (2008) use simulation technology to show how climate change will affect storm activity into the future as well, showing that it will continue to increase as long as temperatures continue increasing. As a result of the increase in intensity, coastal communities are at much higher risks than ever of being devastated by hurricanes. An overwhelming majority of environmental scientists conclude that the main driving force for climate change is the human caused emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The emission of these gases cause temperatures to increase and as a result of temperature increase these components get even stronger. Somewhere between 90% and 100% of climate scientists agree that humans are responsible for climate change, with most studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists (Cook et al., 2016). The number of lives lost to these storms and the money lost because of restoration efforts will only get higher if we don’t do anything to mitigate the intensity of hurricanes. The ten costliest storms combine to an loss of 320 billion dollars in damage and a loss of 16,596 lives (CNN). Ultimately if we wish to mitigate the power of these storms we need to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading

Impacts of Climate Change on Southern New England Lobster Fisheries

Victoria Bouffard, Pre-Veterinary Science

Matt Sullivan, Horticulture

James Sullivan, Fisheries

Southern New England fisherman are still catching lobsters, but not in the way they want to be. They are not being caught in traps or nets, but in the stomachs of their predators. Bart Mansi, a lobster fisherman from Long Island Sound, hears from the local bass fisherman about the baby lobsters they find eaten by their catch. Some of the sea bass they pull in have over 10 baby lobsters in their stomachs. This not an uncommon occurrence,  multiple factors are involved with the scarcity of lobsters in southern New England, and increased predation is just the icing on the cake (Skahill & Mack, 2017). The southern New england lobster population has declined dramatically in the past few decades, while catches in Maine have soared. Harvests in Northern regions like the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank have seen an increase from 14,600 mt (metric tons) in 1990 to 33,000+ mt in 2009, and from 1,300 mt in 1982 to 2,400 mt in 2007, respectively. While the southern New England region landings in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and the New York border of Long Island Sound, declined from a peak of 10,000 mt from 1997 to 1999, to a low of less than 3,000 mt from 2003 to 2007 (Howell 2012). This dramatic shift in lobster settlement is due to a combination of factors, the most pressing being climate change. The Atlantic Ocean has increased by 0.23℃ every decade from 1982 to 2006, with temperatures varying by region (Pinsky & Fogarty, 2012). As the ocean temperatures rise, the more southern regions of New England are crossing a temperature threshold in which the water is no longer hospitable to lobsters, causing them to migrate North.

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Green Building Materials and Carbon Taxes on the Building Sector: Reducing Emissions from the Built Environment


Kyle Horn: Building Construction Technology

Augustin Loureiro: Geology

Daniel MacDonald: BDIC, Agricultural Research and Extensions

Eric Vermilya: Environmental Science




For those of us looking to do our part to help achieve the goal of preventing climate change and pollution, the answer starts in our homes. Turning off lights, using a clothesline during the warm months, and taking quick showers to save water and electricity are common ways to reduce our impact on the environment. These activities help to cut down on the operational emissions that a home releases into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is not much an average individual can do to reduce the embodied emissions that were released when their home was built. In fact, according a study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, during the construction process of an average residential home, the materials used have embodied emissions equal to 15 years of operational emissions. During the fabrication process of any given material, embodied emission, which are the total emissions produced throughout the entire life of an object, are released. For building materials, this includes emissions from extraction, manufacturing, and transportation (Milne & Reardon, 2013). For people who are trying to do their part to save the environment, this can be a frustrating fact to learn. The building industry which generates new housing and maintains important infrastructure is a major contributor to the emissions that are changing our environment. In fact, according to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the building sector accounts for 6% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC, 2014). However, this figure does not take into account the embodied emissions of the building materials that are used by the industry. GHG emissions contribute to ambient GHG concentrations which causes the negative effects of climate change. Fortunately, there are a few ways to reduce emissions of GHG’s such as CO2. The first method, is to use materials that have lower embodied emissions. The second method to reduce CO2 emissions, would be to impose a carbon tax on building materials. A carbon tax would deter people from using materials that have high embodied emissions while also providing a source of revenue. This revenue could be funneled into research and development of alternative low emission building materials and/or put into government subsidies on low emission materials which would provide further incentive for people to use materials that are more environmentally friendly. Continue Reading

Monocultures in America: A System That Needs More Diversity



Early in the morning after a hot cup of coffee, Jim climbs up onto his tractor, turns the key, and drives to the edge of his vast corn fields. The arms of the spray boom unfold, creating a wingspan of 120 feet. As Jim drives down designated rows, a combination of water and chemicals sprays over his crops coating everything, but killing only pesky weeds (“Crop Sprayer”, n.d.). While most perish under the harsh conditions, a few weeds survive. Application after application, season after season, more weeds survive. Attempting to save his corn yields while still making some profit, Jim increases application rates and dates. However, as time goes on, nothing seems to help. The pesky weeds outsmarted the old farmer, leaving him in despair (“How Pesticide Resistance Develops”, n.d.).

Jim, like thousands of farmers across the country, is experiencing negative aspects of monoculture, or the agricultural practice of growing a singular crop species in which all plants are genetically similar or identical over vast acres of land (“Biodiversity”, n.d.). Despite high yields and relatively low input prices, growing just one species of crop on many acres of land creates major pest problems. Current American agricultural policies covered by the Farm Bill incentivize the overproduction of commodity crops, such as corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton, in monoculture systems. When the Farm Bill originated during the Great Depression, however, its goal was to preserve the diversified farm landscape. At the time, surplus ran high but demand fell low, driving crop prices into the ground. Farmers struggled to make mortgage payments. Fearing that farms would be forced out of business, President Roosevelt passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to not cultivate a certain percentage of their land. This successfully reduced supply and increased prices, keeping the market afloat (Masterson, 2011). Following the stabilization of crop prices, the Farm Bill became a permanent piece of legislation in 1938. For the next forty years, farmers continued to grow both staple crops (corn, wheat, and oats) and specialty crops (fruits and vegetables), as well as livestock (Haspel, 2014).

During the latter half of the 20th century, American agriculture experienced an overhaul. The Green Revolution during the 1960s increased crop production through the introduction of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, high-yielding crop varieties, and farm equipment mechanization (Mills, n.d.). Farm size dramatically increased over time; since the 1980s, the average number of acres per farm increased by over 100% (DePillis, 2013). Farms consolidated, resulting in 20% of farmers producing 80% of agricultural outputs (Mills, n.d.). New practices, combined with new additions to the Farm Bill, changed the way farmers managed risk (Haspel, 2014). One such addition included the Marketing Loan Program, which revolves around a set price agreed upon by Congress. If crop prices fall below a certain point, the U.S. government will reimburse farmers the difference. This reimbursement program encourages farmers to increase production regardless if they need to or not. The more they grow, the more money they make, even if it lowers current market crop prices (Riedl, 2007). In 1996, for example, Congress increased the price point of soybeans from $4.92 to $5.26 a bushel. To capitalize on the situation, farmers planted 8 million more acres of soybeans, dropping soybean market prices 33% (Riedl, 2007). Despite the price drop, farmers actually made more money through the reimbursement program. The Farm Bill promotes overproduction which saturates the market with product and artificially lowers prices.

In addition to overproduction, industrial monoculture predisposes farms to pest problems. To keep up with intensified production, farmers increased pesticide and fertilizer usage, crop density, and the number of crop cycles per season, but decreased crop diversity (Crowder & Jabbour, 2014). Overcrowding genetically uniform plants allows pests to spread through fields with relatively little resistance, compared to a more diverse array of species (“Biodiversity”, n.d.). Perhaps the most infamous account of pests sweeping through a field occurred in Ireland during the 1840s. Irish farmers grew a single variety of potatoes. In 1845, the potato late blight fungus destroyed nearly half of the potato crop, and continued to kill more and more for seven years (“Irish Potato Famine”, 2017). Just like fields during the Irish Potato Famine, modern monocultures risk infestation at any moment.

The inherent issues of pest management in monoculture systems will be exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Increases in average temperature creates a favorable environment that support larger pest populations. All insects are cold-blooded organisms, meaning that their body temperatures and biological processes directly correlate to environmental temperatures (Petzoldt & Seaman, 2006; Bale & Hayward, 2010). The reproductive cycles for pests such as the European corn borer, Colorado potato beetle, and Sycamore lace bug depend on temperature (Petzoldt & Seaman., 2006). Due to higher average temperatures, these reproductive cycles require less time (Petzoldt & Seaman, 2006). For example, the Sycamore lace bug saw drastic time reductions in egg development. At 19˚C, Sycamore lace bug eggs required 20 days to fully develop, but at 30˚C, eggs reached full maturity in 7.6 days (Ju et al., 2011, p. 4). Warmer average temperatures allow faster reproduction rates of pests, leading to a significant increase in pest populations. As pest populations grow in size, so does the threat to monoculture farming.

Higher average temperatures will not only shorten the reproductive cycles of insects, but will also limit the pest control mechanisms of winter. 2015 was the warmest winter on record, and 2016 was not much cooler. On any given day throughout 2016, states across the country experienced daily temperatures up to 12.1˚C warmer than normal (Samenow, 2017, Chart II). As a result of climate change, scientists expect milder winters to continue. The National Weather Service predicts the winter of 2017 will be consistently warmer than usual (Samenow, 2017). Insects lack a method to retain heat, forcing crop pest to develop survival strategies during winter. Insects fall into two categories, freeze-tolerant and freeze-avoiding, both which remain dormant throughout the winter (Bale & Hayward, 2010). Milder winter temperatures will have varying effects on species of crop pest, but overall a 1-5˚C increase will decrease thermal stress in both freeze-tolerant and freeze-avoiding insects (Bale & Hayward, 2010). The southwestern corn borer is one species that benefits from milder winters. During summer of 2017, farmers in Arkansas reported higher numbers of southwestern corn borers (SWCB) following the mildest winter recorded in 2016. To combat SWCB, farmers across the state deployed pheromone traps. The traps captured 300% more SWCB moths per week during the 2017 season compared to previous years. (Studebaker, 2017). Mild winters will help crop pests survive through the winter, increasing the potential for crop infestation and damage.

Warmer winters will also drive pest populations northward into uncharted territories of farmland. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies similar climatic regions into hardiness zones to help farmers determine which crops will thrive in their area. Over the past thirty years, increasing temperatures associated with climate change have shifted hardiness zones towards the north. For example, the USDA now classifies northwestern Montana as a zone 6a instead of 5b. Crops such as ginger and artichokes can now successfully grow in this region (Shimizu, 2017). Similarly, more pests can thrive in more northern locations. Beetles, moths, and mites are moving towards the poles at a rate of 2.7 kilometers per year (Barford, 2013). Additionally, fungi and weeds are moving north at a rate of 7 kilometers per year (Barford, 2013). As these ranges grow, farmers need to develop new strategies to control pests they have never encountered. Climate change will unleash a myriad of changes in crop pests: their reproduction rate, winter survival rate and ranges all increase as temperatures rise. To adapt to these changes, farmers have many options, each with their limitations.

The most common strategy to combat pests in monoculture productions is to increase pesticide application rates per acre. Theoretically, more pesticides will kill more pests. However, that solution losing practicality due to the more subtle effects of climate change. Pesticides efficacy decreases as the global temperatures rise. Detoxification rates, or the time required to breakdown a pesticide to render it unharmful to weeds, decrease with increasing temperatures (Matzrafi et al., 2016, p. 1223). A 2016 study, for example, determined that climate change negatively affected the effectiveness of two common herbicides, diclofopmethyl and pinoxaden. At low temperatures (22-28˚C) diclofopmethyl and pinoxaden prevented the growth of any weeds. However, at high temperatures (28-34˚C) 80% of weeds survived diclofopmethyl application and 100% of weeds survived pinoxaden application (Matzrafi et al., 2016, p. 1220, 1223). Applying larger quantities may work initially, but as the overall global temperature continues to rise, pesticides will become less and less effective. Farmers will not be able to afford the quantities needed to control pests.

While current pesticides are losing their ability to kill crop pests, new, more effective pesticides are millions of dollars and years away from development. In 2016, developing a new pesticide required almost 11 years of research and carried a price tag of $287 million dollars. Technological advancements will not be developed fast enough to defend monocultures from the risk of change (“Cost of Crop,” 2016). Consequently, farmers will apply higher quantities of the same pesticide in hopes to control the pest issue. Pesticide cost estimates, under a 2090 climate change model, predict that there is a direct correlation between increasing temperatures and increasing pesticide cost for crops such as corn, cotton, potatoes, and soybeans. In some areas, pesticide usage costs will increase by as much as 23.17% by 2090, aggressively cutting into profit margins (Chen & McCarl, 2001, Table VII).

While farmers attempt to mitigate the negative consequences climate change has on pesticides by increasing usage, further issues arise. Pesticide resistance occurs following repetitious applications of the same pesticide to a field. With each pesticide application, a select few pests survive. They pass on their resistance genes to their offspring, and more individuals survive pesticide application in the subsequent generation. Eventually, the pesticide stops controlling the pest, and crop damage occurs (“How Pesticide Resistance Develops”, n.d.). Currently, there are over 500 reported cases of pesticide resistance and over 250 cases of insecticide resistance worldwide (Gut, Schilder, Isaacs, & McManus, n.d.; “International Survey”, 2017). The most infamous case of pesticide resistance occurs within Roundup Ready crops. Scientists genetically modified crops such as cotton, corn, and soybeans to tolerate glyphosate applications, which is the generic name for the common household weed-killer Roundup. Farmers can spray entire fields with glyphosate and kill everything except the crop itself (Hsaio, 2015). In the United States, 90% of soybeans and 70% of corn grown are Roundup ready crops. The prevalence of Roundup ready crops exposes the drawbacks of monoculture systems. For example, over 10 million acres of farmland in the United States have been afflicted by Roundup resistant pests such as pigweed (Neuman & Pollack, 2010). The increasing rate of Roundup resistance has the potential to dramatically interrupt food security of United States.

As climate change increases the prevalence and range of pests and decreases pesticide efficacy, American farmers will begin to lose their ability to control and maintain its current production levels. Monoculture farms expose themselves to higher risks of pest infestations as well as pesticide resistance. The best strategy for maintaining a stable food supply is to transform American agriculture from monoculture systems to sustainable, diversified farms with a variety of specialty crops. Generally speaking, the more diversified agricultural land is, the more resilient the land is to climate change and other disturbances (Walpole, et. al, 2013). Monoculture fields lack biodiversity, which hinders natural pest control. Unwanted species can spread throughout entire fields with relative ease due to an abundance of their host species and lack of natural predators. In diversified fields, however, pests encounter more resistance when attempting to invade a field; more natural pests and predators, known as biological controls, limit their movement (Brion, 2014).

Diversified farms may already have natural biological controls in their ecosystem, although they can be introduced to farms as well. Biological controls prove to be more cost effective and environmentally conscious than chemical control. Both methods take roughly ten years to develop, but biological controls are much cheaper. In 2004, it cost only two million U.S. dollars to develop a successful biological control, whereas it took $180 million U.S. dollars to develop a successful chemical control. Furthermore, biological control development are 10,000 times more successful than chemical control development, largely in part due to the directed search for biological agents versus the broader search for chemical agents. Most importantly, biological controls exhibit very little to no risk of resistance and harmful side effects, whereas chemical controls have a high risk of resistance and many side effects (Bale, van Lenteren, & Bigler, 2008).

In addition to increasing biodiversity and biological controls, diversified farms use different management practices than monoculture farms. Diversified farms tend to use less synthetic chemical pesticides per unit of production than conventional farms, according to a National Resource Council study (Walpole, et. al, 2013). They also produce more per hectare than large-scale plantations. As stated in a 1992 agricultural census report, diversified farms grew more than twice as much food per acre than large farms by cultivating more crops and more kinds of crops per hectare (Montgomery, 2017).

To mitigate the effects of climate change on American agriculture, the U.S. government must alter its agricultural policies to promote diversified farming. Removing commodity crop subsidies and reallocating that money to farms that practice diversified farming techniques will decrease overproduction in monoculture operations that rely on heavy pesticide usage. Farmers will no longer be able to produce a single crop at maximum volume and continue to make a profit because programs like the Marketing Loan Program will no longer exist. In turn, this will help alleviate pesticide resistance caused by overuse and climate change. Farmers who grow a variety of specialty crops will be rewarded for their environmental stewardship through monetary compensation, similar to how mono-cropping farms used to receive subsidies.

The United States would not be the first country to remove crop subsidies. In 1984, New Zealand removed their crop subsidy program. Like the United States, New Zealand had subsidized as much as 40% of a farmer’s income throughout the 1970s into the early 1980s (Imhoff, 2012, p. 103). Farmers took advantage of government programs similar to the Marketing Loan Program in the U.S. by producing more, therefore receiving more subsidies. During the 1984 election, however, the winning party ran a platform to remove subsidies. The elimination of subsidies from the budget caused no major food shortages like supporters of the U.S. Farm Bill claim would happen. Instead, New Zealand saw an increase in efficiency. For example, the total number of sheep fell following 1984, but weight gain and lambing productivity increased. The dairy industry in New Zealand also saw drastic increases in efficiency, bringing production costs for cattle to the lowest in the world (Imhoff, 2012, p. 104).

In addition to more efficient farms, there is an interesting aspect of subsidy removal brought light to in the New Zealand case. After the 1984 repeal, pesticide usage reduced by 50% (William, 2014). If the United States adopted a similar practice to New Zealand, but instead reallocated commodity crop subsidies towards diversified farming practice, there would be an influx of more efficient and productive farms that could feed the nation while using less pesticides.

Many states have begun to implement grant programs to promote diversified farming. In 2017, Massachusetts granted over $300,000 toward businesses and farms promoting diversification through specialty crop production. In concurrence with the USDA, Boston offered grants for projects aimed at improving Massachusetts specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, and horticulture and nursery products. In general, these grants support projects that help increase market opportunities for local farmers and promote sustainable production practices by giving money to diversified farms more funds. Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA), for example, received a portion of this grant. With the money, CISA plans to provide financial support to specialty crop farmers in Western Massachusetts. The Sustainable Business Organization also received part of the grant, with which they hope to build relationships between specialty crop farmers and buyers. By removing barriers that prevent farmers and customers from doing business, the Sustainable Business Organization hopes to increase sales of specialty crops across New England (“Baker-Polito,” 2017).The United States federal government often looks upon states to make sure programs work on a smaller before the whole country takes after them on a larger scale. If the United States removes subsidies that encourage monoculture and reallocates that money towards diversifying crops on farms, American farmers could emulate programs like those in Massachusetts.  By doing so, problems associated with pests and climate change will be mitigated.

Facing the adverse effects of monoculture agricultural systems and climate change, farmers and legislature must work together to diversify farms across the United States. The current monoculture overproduces food, leading to an increased use of pesticides, even by the mere increase of agricultural land alone. On top of this, increasing temperatures associated with climate change are threatening American agriculture as well. Warmer temperatures increase pest populations and decrease the efficacy of pesticides. Furthermore, overuse of pesticides is allowing pests to develop pesticide resistance, creating a snowball effect between pests, pesticide usage, and pesticide resistance. In order to preserve food security and mitigate the effects of climate change, the United States must remove commodity crop subsidies and reallocate the funds towards diversified farming practices. Doing so will decrease the need for pesticides while increasing crop yields. The fight against climate change will prove to be a challenging process, but collaboration between farmers and government will help ease the process and create positive change.         


Julia Anderson – Animal Science and Sustainable Food and Farming
Emily Hespeler – Environmental Science
Steven Zwiren – Building and Construction Technology


Baker-Polito administration announces over $300,000 in grants to promote specialty crops. (2017). Retrieved from

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Hydraulic fracturing: A hope for climate change reduction or a curse?


Since the industrial revolution, a substantial percentage of our society relies on energy sources to carry out daily activities. Though energy can now come from renewable sources (e.g., wind, hydro, solar, etc.), the most common way of obtaining energy is through the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., gasoline, coal, oil, and natural gas) in combustion reactions resulting in the production of carbon dioxide, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas (Ophardt, 2000). Greenhouse gases are needed to keep Earth’s atmosphere’s temperature balanced, but if excess gases accumulate in the atmosphere then it increases the temperature of Earth. Since the industrial revolution, increase in human activities have led to exceedingly large carbon dioxide emissions which is now accumulating in our atmosphere warming the planet rapidly. Models have shown that if steps towards climate change are not taken, the Earth could warm up to 2 degrees Celsius which will negatively affect Earth life to a great extent (IPCC, 2013).

While there are different options to obtain energy sources, some of them have harmful effects to our environment. One of the most popular ways to obtain energy is through the burning of coal. Coal based energy production accounts for more than 48% of domestic energy generation in the United States (Bligen, 2014 p. 893). The coal industry in the United States produced 782.4 million tons of coal in 2016 (EIA, 2017, page vii). From mining, to transportation to electricity generation, coal releases a lot of toxic pollutants into the air, water and land. The detrimental effects of coal use range from water pollution to health risks but the broader problem scientists observe is the impact to climate change due to the substantial carbon dioxide emissions. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of America’s carbon dioxide emissions-about the same as all transportation sources–cars, SUVs, trucks, buses, planes, ships and trains–combined (EPA, 2017, page ES-11). Coal is an important source of energy but it adds a significant amount of carbon dioxide per unit of heat energy more than the combustion of any other fossil fuel. In fact, coal combustion emits more than twice the climate changing carbon dioxide per unit of energy than natural gas production (EIA, 2017, Table #1).

At one point in their lifetime, the average American has used oil as an energy source, indirectly or directly. In addition to coal, the burning of oil has a large impact on our environment. About 40% of the energy consumed in the United States is supplied by petroleum (Bligen, 2010, p. 893). Since the amount of petroleum used varies depending on economics, politics and technology, estimates of carbon dioxide emissions are difficult to predict with certainty. Nevertheless, data has shown that the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning gasoline and diesel fuel was equal to 30% of total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (EIA, 2017). In addition to CO2, oil powered plants can also emit particulates NOx and SO2 which are strong gases with direct impact to public health. The economic impact of emissions from oil combustion to public health, including illnesses, premature mortality, workdays lost and direct costs to the healthcare system is equal to 13 cents per kWh (Machol & Rizk, 2013, p. 76).  

Since energy is essential for modern economic and social development, it is crucial that the energy sector look for processes that reduce the negative impacts to our climate. Due to the increased concern over carbon dioxide emissions, natural gas production has increased over the past decade. Natural gas, a combustible gaseous mixture of methane and other hydrocarbons, is used extensively in residential energy; more than half of American use gas for home heating. Natural gas is seen as more climatically beneficial and energy efficient than coal or oil because its combustion produces more energy per carbon dioxide molecule formed than coal (170%) and oil (140%) (Karion et al., 2013, p. 4393).

Conventional natural gas extraction involves retrieving gas from large pools by using natural pressure from wells to pump the gas to the surface (British Columbia). However, conventional gas reservoirs have been depleting, therefore the industry relies on unconventional methods to extract gas from shale rock formations.  Unlike conventional gas, shale gas remains trapped the original rock that formed from the sedimentary deposition of mud, silt, clay, and organic matter on the floors of shallow seas (UCS). Methods of extracting said gas include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process which is used to create cracks in shale rocks to allow air flow.

The rise of shale gas development can be traced back to the 1840s but the first experiment labeled as hydraulic fracturing occurred by late 1940s. By the 1960s companies such as Pan American Petroleum commercialized these techniques. In 1975, former president Gerald Ford promoted the development of shale oil resources as part of the overall energy plan to reduce foreign energy imports (Manfreda, 2015). The increase cost and climatic disadvantages that the oil and coal industry pose led to the sudden boom in the hydraulic fracturing industry. In 2000 shale gas represented 2% of United States natural gas production. By the end of 2016, it topped 60% (Brown, 2014, page 121; EIA, 2017)

Moreover, hydraulic fracturing also poses advantages to the economy in the United States. On average, the cost of gas extracted using hydraulic fracturing is two to three American dollars per thousand cubic feet of gas. This is 50-66 percent cheaper than production from other energy industries (Sovacool, 2014, page 253). Since conventional gas extractions have become more difficult because of depleting sources, natural gas prices could be 2.5 times higher in 30 years if unconventional gas extractions didn’t exist (Jacoby et al., 2012, p. 46). In addition, shale gas development has been proven to increase employment, revenue and taxes in production areas. Production on the Marcellus Shale brought 4.8 billion US dollars in gross regional product, created 57,000 jobs, and generated $1.7 billion in local, state and federal tax collections (Sovacool, 2014, p. 254). These benefits have prompted the United States to promote hydraulic fracturing as the new standard in the energy industry.

The process of hydraulic fracturing is presented to give a better understanding of how hydraulic fracturing works. The first step in hydraulic fracturing is finding a location with a shale rock formation that will produce natural gas. A shale rock formation is made up of fine grade sedimentary rocks that are are compressed into a clay, the shale that is used in fracking is black shale that is rich in organic matter. The  organic matter will undergo heat and pressure and some of it will transform into natural gas. Once the location is found the drilling begins. The drilling is broken into two parts the vertical drilling and the horizontal drilling. The workers first have to drill vertically to a depth around 1,000 feet underground when this is finished a steel casing is inserted into the well so the risk of pollutants won’t spread through the earth’s bedrock and won’t affect groundwater. After the vertical drilling is complete, the horizontal drilling extends out to about 1.5 kilometers through the shale rock formation. After the drilling of the well is completed a specialize performing gunshot is shot which in return creates small holes in the shale formation completing the drilling part of the well (Nacamulli, 2017).

Contrary to popular belief, hydraulic fracturing is not the process of drilling but rather a method used to extract gas after a hole is completed. It is a process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at a high pressure into a tight rock formation via a well to stimulate and boost gas flow (Schneising et al., 2014). The propellant in the liquid then goes into the small fractures which keeps them open and allows either the gas or oil to escape from the earth and go up the well and be collected (Schneising et al., 2014). After a well is drilled liquids, such as water and acid, and sand are pumped down the well at high pressures to crack rocks and stimulate shale gas flow. After the shale rock is cracked, the liquid is pumped back to the surface to retrieve the natural gas, this process is known as flowback (Allen et al. 2013). After natural gas is retrieved, the fracking liquid is either pumped back into a separate well and then the well is closed; transported to a water treatment facility or re-used for the stimulation of another well. Recycling the same chemicals with fluid used in new operations contaminates the fluid and creates a more harmful emission the next time around (Nacamulli, 2017). The last step of hydraulic fracturing is the abandonment and plugging of the well. This is done by plugging the well with cement.  

While natural gas does decrease carbon dioxide when used as fuel, there is a concern that the process of fracking leads to massive methane escapes, which is concerning since methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). GHGs are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. GHGs from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century (IPCC, 2013). The problem lies in the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere; if too much is in our atmosphere, then more heat is trapped which leads to the planet warming at an unbalanced state. Models have shown that if society doesn’t take the necessary precautions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth could warm up by 2 degrees Celsius which substantially impact Earth life as we know it (IPCC, 2013).

As mentioned before, methane is potent strong greenhouse gas with severe environmental impacts; it has a global warming potential (GWP) of 34 (IPCC, 2013). GWP for a gas is a measure of the total energy a gas absorbs over a particular time period compared to carbon dioxide. The larger the GWP, the more warming the gas causes. Methane has a GWP of 34 meaning that it will cause more warming than carbon dioxide. Methane, however, has a shorter life-time in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. Atmospheric lifetime refers to the amount of time a gas stays in the atmosphere before it is released into space. Methane stays in the atmosphere for a decade, carbon dioxide however is more difficult to measure because there is a myriad of biological processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere therefore carbon dioxide can actually stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Carbon dioxide is the focus on climate change reform because of its long atmospheric lifetime but some scientists claim that there is no way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in time. Even with major carbon dioxide reductions, Howarth argues that the planet could reach 1.5 degrees in 12 years and 2 degrees in 35 years (as cited in Maggill, 2016). Since the planet responds much more rapidly to methane, a reduction in methane emissions could potentially slow global warming. In order for hydraulic fracturing to provide a net climatic benefit, methane emissions must be lower than 3.2% (Alvarez, Pacala, Winebrake, Chameides, and Hamburg, 2012, page 6437.  However, studies have shown that methane emissions from operating shale gas formations emit higher percentages of methane than 3.2% (Alvarez et al., 2012; Caulton et al., 2014 ; Karion et al., 2013; Schneising et al., 2014). Methane emissions will continue to increase as fracking grows in popularity therefore reform in technologies need to be made in order to create cost and climatic benefits in energy production.

While fugitive methane leakages at fracturing sites are a recognized concern for climate change, methane emissions and leakage are challenges because they occur at various locations during gas extraction and processing. During flowback, we experience the largest amount of  methane emissions are exhibited. As the fracking liquid comes back to the surface, it brings methane released from the shale. During the flowback period, as much as 3.2% of the total natural gas extracted is emitted into the atmosphere (Howarth, Santoro & Ingraffea, 2011 , p. 681). The methane is either captured by emission control devices or emitted into the atmosphere (Allen et al. 2013). Research has shown that methane emissions from shale gas development might be a result of drilling through coal beds which are known to release large amounts of methane. Popular fracking sites, such as the Marcellus Shale formation, are located over coal beds. Another way methane can leak into the atmosphere is through the transportation of natural gas. As natural gas is transported from the well to the storage containers methane leaks through equipment, typically wells have 55 to 150 connections to equipment and make up nearly 90% of methane emission from heaters, meters dehydrators, compressors and vapor-recovery apparatus. (Howarth et al., 2011, Pg. 683) Researchers observed this by examining the unaccounted gas, which is measured by comparing the volume of gas at the wellhead and the amount of gas that was purchased. The estimate of leakage during this time is estimated at 2.5% of emissions (Howarth et al., 2011 Pg. 684-685). Even though it is difficult to trace methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing to just one stage, all of these leaks could be reduced by improving the equipment used. Research performed has shown that the cement used to prevent leaks from well equipments into the atmosphere fails due to installation and material problems (Ingraffea, Wells, Santoro, & Shonkoff, 2014). Since methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing need to be lower than 3.2%, it is crucial that the industry implement reforms to innovate fracking equipment.

Fortunately, methane leaks from fracking are not impossible to stop, and some states have already implemented stricter regulations in order to minimize them. In 2014 Colorado became the first state in the country to place limits on methane emissions from oil and gas operations (Ogburn et al., 2014). Most methane that is lost from fracking comes from leaks in the well infrastructure as well as leaks in the transportation process. In an effort to reduce methane emissions from fracking, Colorado adopted rules which required operators detect and fix leaks and install devices to capture 95 percent of methane emissions (Marmaduke, 2016). It was believed that nearly every step of the methane harvesting process resulted in some amount of methane leakage. In 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a rule that was based off of the rule that Colorado had already passed two years earlier. The EPA estimates that theses rules will cut methane emissions by 510,000 tons by the year 2025, which is equal to the amount of greenhouse gases generated by 11 coal fired power plants (Marmaduke, 2016). In the state of Colorado alone, the chief of health estimated that the new rules could cut overall air pollution by 92,000 tons, which is the equivalent of taking every car in the state of Colorado off the road for an entire year (Kroh, 2013). Colorado made significant changes to their emissions standards by requiring all fracking companies to install maximum achievable control technology (MACT). MACT is a set of standards set by the EPA for over 100 categories of different sources of air pollution (West Virginia, 2014). This means that for each of the sources of the pollution the EPA has observed they have set a standard for that source that the company needs to meet. In most cases these standards involve having to install new equipment and machinery that allows less leaks (West Virginia, 2014). In order to install the MACT technology, oil and gas companies will need to be prepared to devote serious financial resources to making it happen. Implementing MACT would force companies to upgrade technology by installing pollution controls, including activated carbon injection, scrubbers or dry sorbent injection, and upgrade particulate controls (Bipartisan, 2013).

The cost of implementing MACT will be high but the costs of climate change are even higher. The cost to implement the technology to meet these standards would be roughly 10.9 billion dollars per year for energy companies that are forced to comply (Bipartisan, 2013). This money would be made up by increasing utility for all customers of companies affected. The EPA estimates that rule would result in an electricity price increase of 3.7 percent and natural gas prices would increase by an average of 0.6 to 1.3 percent (Bipartisan, 2013). This would mean the average natural gas customer would see their yearly bill increase by between $5.95 and $12.90 and the average yearly electrical bill would increase by $49.98 (EIA 2016; Shannon, 2016). By increasing the prices of their customers the companies would be left with a small fraction of the actual cost of the technology and would therefore not have to take on such a financial burden.

The information provided has given use concrete examples and facts about the amount of pollution that’s being emitted into the earth’s atmosphere from fracking. We need to understand   that we need to find a way to make natural gas the great clean energy source that is wanted by many people. Some methane emissions are essential to regulate because of their threat to climate change now and in the future, as we look more for the use of natural gas energy. By understanding the negative impacts of the extraction of natural gas is very important to know how we need to fix the problem of fracking to make fracking clean er and less pollutant. Overall we need to take some emissions present and reduce them to produce natural gas the green energy that is supposed to be. We have seen significant improvements in Colorado act to clean up the methane emissions from fracking.


Andrea Vázquez – Animal Science

Noah Marchand – Environmental Science

Shawn MacDonald – Geology



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Micro Irrigation: How to Make Every Drop Count


Mike Wissemann is a tenth generation farmer from Sunderland, MA. His farm, Warner Farm, has been an established source of crops for the surrounding towns since 1718. Mr. Wisseman inherited three hundred years of farming techniques and tricks. He spent his high school years working on the family farm and went on to receive a degree in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mr. Wisseman successfully expanded the farm and his crops from potato/onion crop to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (Schwarzenbach, 2017). However, no amount of experience or education stopped him from losing tens of thousands of dollars when the Northeast experienced one of its worst droughts in decades (Kaufman, 2016). Farmers all over the Northeast were left scrambling to find enough water for their crops–some were even reduced to bucket brigades to get enough water to their acres of farmland (Shea, 2016).

Despite their best efforts, farmers could not plant their second round of crops. Even generally fertile farm areas such as those by rivers had major problems trying to irrigate (Schwarzenbach, 2017). When your entire livelihood depends on a natural resources (such as water), climate change and increasing drought years are a direct danger to your livelihood.

As climate change continues, droughts like the one experienced by Mr. Wissemann, are going to become more common.  Rising temperatures associated with climate change have impacted approximately 80% of monthly heat records (Coumou, Robinson, & Rahmstorf, 2013). As a rule, as temperature increases, the rate at which an organism produces energy increases as well (Hansen, Smith, & Criddle, 1998). This would be beneficial to productivity, if increased temperatures did not have the additional effect of decreasing the amounts of water available in soil. Think about the application of heat to a pot of water; when the water boils, the water escapes the pot in the form of vapor into the air. The same process holds true when heat is applied to the ground; the water escapes the soil in the form of vapor. This process leaves the soil devoid of water for the plants and leads to drought. The U.S. is a top exporter of agricultural goods and climate change is going to have a significant impact on our agriculture (Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff, 2012). Between 2000 and 2015, 20-70% of the United States experienced abnormally dry conditions each year (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2016). This does not bode well for the agricultural industry as droughts have an intensely negative impact on crops.

Decreased soil moisture means less water is available for the plants. This both leads to water stress and exacerbates heat stress. Water stress is a variety of plant symptoms that negatively affect plant productivity. It also aggravates heat stress which is when a plant suffers significant tissue damage because of high temperatures or high soil temperatures (Hall, 2017). The same way that humans expect to catch a cold from being overly cold or hungry for too long, plants are more susceptible to disease after being dehydrated and overheated for too long. When leaves of corn are subjected to drought-like conditions, they contained 69% more diseased biomass (Vaughan et al., 2016). When a plant is dehydrated, tiny openings in the leaves close to avoid further loss of water through evaporation. When these openings close, the leaf is incapable of expelling oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide–as if the plant is holding its breath (Osakabe, Osakabe, Shinozaki, & Tran, 2014). Increased heat stress and decreased water availability reduces the plant ability to breathe and thus make food. This results in a weakened plant that is more susceptible to disease (Irmak, 2016; Vaughan et al., 2016).

To get a better sense of the effects of combining heat and water stress, these processes can be related to the human body. Heat stress is similar to running; it elevates your heart rate.  If you run forever without rest, you will pass out, and most likely die without medical attention. Water stress, which is like holding your breath, will also eventually kill you, but can be done for some length of time. When heat stress and water stress occur simultaneously, it is like running a marathon while holding your breath. Such a venture would result in near-immediate loss of consciousness, and death without medical attention. Similarly, a plant under both water and heat stress, sees a drastic decrease in productivity, and eventual death without a change in conditions.

We are exceptionally vulnerable to these effects of climate change on our crops due to our current method of water usage. Current estimates reveal that 70% of freshwater withdrawals go towards irrigation uses (Block, 2017) and a large amount of this water could be conserved. A widely accepted, but inefficient method of irrigation is furrow or gravity irrigation. It accounts for 35% to 42% of irrigation systems in the United States (Subbs, 2016). Compared to a more modern technique known as drip irrigation, it wastes 43.6 % of total water use (Tagar et al., 2012,  p. 792). Furrow irrigation involves planting crops in rows with small trenches running in between them. Water is then flown down the trenches that run alongside the crops (Perlman, 2016). Farmers across the nation use furrow irrigation because there are lower initial investment costs as well as a lower cost for pumping water (Yonts, Eisenhauer, & Varner, 2007). Unfortunately, it also wastes a lot of water. The water is not targeted on the roots and much of it goes to wetting soil around the plant and not the actual root. This is inefficient because the roots are the plant structure that absorb the water (Lamont, Orzolek, Harper, Kime, & Jarrett, 2017). The water that is not on the roots is more likely to be lost as soil evaporation which accounts for over 50% water lost in furrow irrigation (Batchelor, Lovell, & Murata, 1996). Traditional forms of irrigation irrigate the entire field, wasting precious water on soil that will not be in contact with the plant’s roots (Lamont et al., 2017).

Plants need fresh water to survive but, unfortunately, water is a finite resource. Although the water covers 70% of the planet, only 2.5% of it is fresh water. This freshwater is “stored” in places like rivers, lakes, ice, and, perhaps most importantly, in the ground. Surface water seeps down through layers of dirt and rock to recharge groundwater storage areas, more commonly known as aquifers. Aquifers are made up of types of rock particles, such as sand and gravel,  that have enough space between them that the water can happily live. We need freshwater for activities ranging from drinking to manufacturing processes to agricultural irrigation. And about 50% of the freshwater we use for these activities is derived from groundwater (Dimick, 2014).  

The main differing factor between groundwater and surface water as a source of fresh water is the time it takes for these reserves to be recharged. Surface waters, such as lakes, can be replenished with seasonal rains. Groundwater on the other hand can take anywhere from months to tens of thousands of years to build up a reserve because the water has to flow through layers and layers of soil and rock to reach the aquifer. It can also be left untouched for long periods of time as it is not susceptible to the same rules of constant evaporation as surface water.

Agriculture has been using up this resource far faster than it can be replaced. It may take years to build up a water reserve, but it only takes seconds to pump it out. For example, the Ogallala Aquifer, which is located under the Great Plains of the United States, recharges at a rate of less than 1 inch per year (Kromm, 2017). However, over the past decade water has been withdrawn at a rate of approximately 18 inches per year. It is estimated that in the next 50 years, 69% of the Ogallala Aquifer will be gone. This depletion of groundwater resources is happening all over the country from the Colorado River Basin to the California Central Valley to the North China Plain to the Middle East (Dimick, 2014).

We cannot fix climate change, however we can mitigate its effects through effective water usage. Using the method of Micro Irrigation also known as drip irrigation, we can conserve water and mitigate the negative effects of water and heat stress on crops. Micro Irrigation involves using pressurized piping that drips water directly on the roots of the plant. It consists of a mainline distribution, sub-mainline (header), drip lines, filters, pressure regulators, and chemical injectors. Laying down an underground network of pipe which has an opening at the base of each plant. Using a pressurizing system to efficiently deliver water directly to the root system of the plant, which is the part that absorbs water (Lamont et al., 2017).

This decreases the water stress on the plants because it ensures that the plants are receiving enough water. Adequate water leads to healthier and more disease resistant crops (Irmak, 2016; Vaughan et al., 2016).

Not only does this method create better living conditions for the plants, it also conserves an incredible amount of water. This will be especially key as water availability decreases with climate change. Drip irrigation improves efficiency of water on farms by reducing the soil evaporation and drainage losses. In terms of conservation, drip irrigation may require less than half the water needed in a sprinkler irrigation method (Lamont et al., 2017). Since the water is applied directly to the roots, no water is wasted on non-productive areas, resulting in even more water efficiency (Lamont et al., 2017). Drip irrigation was much more efficient than furrow irrigation saving 56.4% of the water in comparison. (Tagar et al., 2012,  p. 792).

However, traditional irrigation wastes water in a way that drip irrigation does not. In terms of the framework of increasing water demand with climate change, agricultural methods that recognize water as a valuable, finite resource need to be implemented.  

Furrow Irrigation is cheaper to install initially, but is far more water and energy inefficient compared to drip irrigation. To install, depending on the type of furrow irrigation and the size of the farm, it will be anywhere from $13 to $70 per acre (Wichelns, Houston, Cone, Zhu, Wilen, 1996). There are more repair costs and maintenance costs for this particular type of irrigation and can be anywhere from $13 to $90 annually per acre (Wilchens et al., 1996). While it is cheaper initially, drip irrigation uses water and energy so much more efficiently, that the long term savings of drip irrigation far outweigh the initial cheapness of the furrow irrigation.

Drip Irrigation costs approximately $500- $1,200 per acre, or potentially more, to install (Simonne et al., 2015). For reference, Louisiana Delta Plantation has over 26,000 acres (Honey Brake Lodge, 2017). An acre is about the size of a football field, which would make that farm the size of 26,000 football fields put together. Even at the lowest cost, converting to Drip Irrigation would cost approximately $13 million for the Louisiana Delta Plantation. Even though the initial investment is hard to grasp in terms of magnitude, eventually the system will pay for itself by maintaining crop yields, even in dry years, and lowering energy and water costs (Stauffer, 2010; Lee Engineering, 2017). How much money will be saved and how many years it will take for the new system to pay for itself is largely dependent on the size of the farm and what kind of crop is being grown, therefore, there are not any specific numbers because of the huge variability of farm types and sizes (Stauffer, 2010). In addition, climate change is very difficult to predict precisely enough for long-term cost analysis, and the type of year-to-year predictions necessary to make those calculations are not presently feasible.

Additionally, the drip method is actually shown to increase crop yields by 22%, which itself is motivation for its implementation (Tagar et al., 2012,  p. 792). California almond farmers have seen their crop yields double as they increased their reliance on the micro irrigation system (Block, 2017). Drip irrigation creates better growing conditions by maintaining the correct moisture conditions favorable for crop growth (Batchelor et al., 1996).

However, if the initial investment cost is offset, micro irrigation will save money in the long run. This method of subsidizing the initial cost has been successful in other situations such as in the case of solar panels. An initial investment cost for switching to solar energy can be anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000 (Maehlum, 2014). It would be reduced by thousands of dollars because of the Federal and state tax credits associated with switching to solar power. Eventually, the solar panels will pay for themselves and even save you money in the long term, much like drip irrigation. Largely dependent on how big the house is, how much power is used, and where the house is located, the payback time for switching can vary, but for an average household with a high regular energy cost would be able to payback the initial investment in as little as 15 years (Maehlum, 2014).

A potential source of funding for this initial cost is the federal government. In a recent publication, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that they are willing to fund such advancements in the agricultural industry in the name of invasive species, habitat management, soil erosion, and generalized conservation. Since all these factors contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of a farm, efficient watering is logically a top priority for the government.

These programs fall under The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which is a program offered by the USDA Farm Service Agency. The CRP is offered as part of an overall program to address invasive species research, technical assistance, and prevention and control that was set up by the USDA in 2015 (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2015). The CRP specifically is a grant based program where the government is willing to supply money to farmers “for establishment of resource-conserving cover on environmentally sensitive croplands.” (USDA, 2015, p. 4). Among other programs, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which gives government aid to farmers who want to use more efficient and conservation friendly tools, and the Conservation Technical Assistance Program, which awards tools for conservation to private, tribal, and non federal lands, show a clear willingness for the government to aid in funding programs geared toward conservation and climate change problems (United States Department of Agriculture, 2015). The method under discussion to more efficiently water our farmland is expensive, but clearly the government is willing and able to encourage and fund conservation of farmlands in whatever way possible, even if that means switching to a more efficient water usage irrigation system.

Currently, despite its ability to conserve water, increase crop yields, and mitigate climate change impacts, the use of micro irrigation is not widespread. This is due in part to its high initial investment cost. With grants from the government to offset the initial costs, the system will eventually save money in the long term. A livelihood for farmers like Mike Wissemann, and food for the public like you, are only going to worsen as temperatures continue to rise. Water efficiency is important now more than ever before.


Jeremy Brownholtz – Environmental Science

Molly Craft – Natural Resource Conservation

Noah Rak – Building and Construction Technology

Mary Lagunowich – Earth System



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Protecting Against Climate Change’s Mega-Storms


On August 24, 2017 hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a category 4 hurricane. It was the first major hurricane to hit Texas since 1970 (Allen & Davis, 2017), and it was devastating. The storm delivered a year’s worth of rain in less than a week, being called the wettest tropical storm on record in the United States as affected areas received more than 40 inches of rainfall with peak accumulations of 64.58 inches in just four days (Dart & Helmore, 2017, para 3). The two main flood-control reservoirs that were supposed to protect the Houston area broke. Water levels rose dramatically, damage was increased tenfold, and hundreds of lives were lost. A storm surge of over 12 ft was reported at Aransas Wildlife Refuge, and other areas had storm surges ranging from 3-10 ft as the hurricane stalled over southeast Texas. Hurricane Harvey is the costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, the damage is so high that it was feared that Texas will not receive enough money to rebuild within a month. Eventually congress budgeted 7.8 billion dollars for recovery efforts, which was only a small fraction of what was truly needed out of the $180 billion that Harvey cost (McWilliams & Parraga, 2017, para 5). After the hurricane, relief efforts were not only attempted by agencies and different government organizations, but also by neighbors and friends. With a disaster as devastating as Harvey, people needed each other to come together and offer relief and support.

It is apparent that climate change is altering the world around us and that hurricanes are becoming more severe as a result. Global warming is changing our oceans, causing a rise in sea surface temperatures, and sea levels, which creates more favorable conditions for intense hurricanes (Mallard, Lackmann, Aiyyer, & Hill, 2013). Hurricanes are classified by the amount of damage they inflict, which is based off of wind speeds and duration of the storm. A category 5 storm is the most severe and a category 1 storm is the least severe. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association [NOAA], 2017). Since it is easier for severe hurricanes to form, there has been a global decline in weaker hurricanes with a proportional increase in higher category storms by 2-11% (Holland & Bruyère, 2014, p. 623). We are already seeing the aftermath of such implications; severe hurricanes, which are often classified as a category 3, 4, or 5, cause significantly more damage as opposed to a category 1 or 2 hurricane (Abrams, 2017). A major cause of damage and life loss are the incredible storm surges that large hurricanes cause (NOAA, 2011). High storm surges have been reported in nearly all the hurricanes this past season, including Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and Hurricane Harvey (“Hurricane Irma”, 2017; “Major Hurricane Harvey”, 2017). Results of these hurricanes have included major flooding and infrastructural damage in affected areas, in many cases overwhelming hurricane defenses already in place (“Hurricane Katrina”, 2009). Hurricane Irma, which recently swept through Florida and the Caribbean, was the first category 5 hurricane to strike the Leeward Islands of Puerto Rico, and is said to be the most intense hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina (“Hurricane Irma”, 2017). Just two weeks later hurricane Maria, the tenth most intense hurricane on record swept through Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic causing catastrophic damage and sending Puerto Rico into a state of emergency (NOAA, 2017). During this past hurricane season, there have been eight big hurricanes which is double the yearly average (Rice, 2017, para 4). Three category 4 and 5 hurricanes have hit the United States in 2017, inflicting severe flooding, which is a first in hurricane history. This trend of bigger, more damaging hurricanes can not be ignored. The current barriers in place are no longer a reliable defence against the greater intensity of these storms.      

Despite the evidence, climate science is still disputed and claims no connection between climate change or its effect on sea surface temperature that ultimately affects hurricane intensity. Nevertheless, the scientific community has reached consensus and agrees that the planet is warming due to climate change (Wang et al., 2016), and that it is affecting storm strength. For each degree Celsius of global warming, there is an 11% increase in the proportion of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, but a 7% decrease in hurricanes that are category 1 and 2 (Holland & Bruyère, 2014, p. 623). Warming sea surface temperatures have lead to more intense and violent hurricanes with larger storm surges (Kieper, n.d.) causing more and more damage each year to coastal communities in the United States (Dinan, 2017).

Natural disasters such as these are ultimately unavoidable, and there are many people who work to try to predict them in order to protect people from the damage. Anticipating hurricanes and their severity are paramount for providing effective damage and flood protection. Our effect on the climate through anthropogenic climate change has lead to an increase in hurricane intensity causing hurricanes to become bigger and last longer. Our knowledge of how global warming is affecting hurricanes can allow us to prepare more for these storms. The increase of severe, higher category storms will cause more damage than the milder hurricanes we are more accustomed to. As hurricanes intensify, there are greater costs to our economy, infrastructure, and lives (Wang, Li, Zhang, & Ellingwood, 2016; Mallard et al., 2013). There are two major types of damage caused by hurricanes: water damage and wind damage. Wind damage is caused by the high speed winds in a hurricane that can exceed 150 miles per hour which can rip trees out of the ground and move buildings (NOAA, 2017). Water damage is caused by the rain and storm surge associated with the hurricane. Flooding from these events can ruin homes, roads, coastal habitat, and even end lives. Infrastructure that was once used to hold back this storm surge is failing more often as they are overwhelmed by intense storms (Lafrance, 2015). While flood barriers won’t be able to protect communities and the landscape from wind damage, reducing the amount of water damage that will occuring during a hurricane will give people more time to protect themselves against wind damage and reduce the costs of recovering after a hurricane. For example, out of Hurricane Harvey’s 180 billion dollar bill, only 2 billion dollars of the damage was caused by wind (Wattles, 2017, para 9). It is imperative that better flood control and protection be improved and implicated to protect the people and land from severe flooding.    

As seen during hurricane Harvey, the precautions and systems in place are not enough to safely mitigate a storm. Steps that are taken in preparation include: hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge watches, evacuation, sandbags, rescue cars and boats in case of flooding, and checks of the city’s drainage system (National Hurricane Center [NHC], 2017). No matter the preparation Hurricane Harvey breached levees and flowed over dams. In order to protect ourselves during future hurricanes and their storm surge, flood barriers, a form of levee, should be built along high risk coastlines or inlets. Areas that are at risk are cities built along the coast, which are often densely populated and at least partially below sea level. Cities that fit this criteria are Miami, Florida; New York City, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Virginia Beach, Virginia (Glink, 2013). A flood barrier is a fixed flood gate system that allows water to pass during normal conditions, but in the event of a storm or high water level, the gates are closed which stops water from passing and prevents flooding (European Climate Adaptation Program [ADAPT], 2015). These are improvements on traditional levees, which are typically artificial embankments. These structures are often placed at the mouths of inlets, rivers, or partially along certain low lying coastlines. They work by permanently installing either two gates at either side of an area, or a row of panels underneath the water. In the event of dangerous flooding, the gates swing closed through the water, creating a seal to prevent more water from entering. Or, the panels beneath the water rise, creating a wall against flood water. Flood barriers have been built in several cities throughout the world that are in high danger of flooding.

Other areas have already taken the initiative to bolster their protection against flooding. The Netherlands for example is an extremely prone country to storm surge flooding, since half the country is just one meter above sea level and more than an eighth is below sea level (Kimmelman, 2017). In 1997, the Netherlands built Maeslantkering, a storm surge barrier protecting the city of Rotterdam. At 1,600 ft long, the barrier is a modern engineering triumph capable of protecting Holland from the storm surge and rising sea levels it is so susceptible to (“Maeslantkering”, 2017; Kimmelman, 2017). The Netherlands isn’t the only country to implement this type of technology. Italy completed the Venice Mose Barriers in 2012, which also protects the low lying city from floods and sea level rise. Both countries are at risk of storm surges and have histories of major flooding, and the barriers are effective.

Levees are typically built to withstand a hundred-year flood event, which is an exceptional flood that has about a 1% chance of occurring each year. When a system is built to withstand a hundred year event, it assumes that the event will not change or get worse in that time period (United States Geological Survey [USGS], 2016). This is particularly problematic with global warming, since global warming has been rapidly changes the types of storms we experience, often making them much more severe. Therefore a hundred-year levee can easily become overwhelmed when storms that are more intense and more frequent than it was built for occur, making it essential that we build levees to more long term standards. The Netherland’s flood barrier is built to withstand a 10,000-year flood event. This makes it 100 times safer than the standards set for levees in the United States. Furthermore, since is it is built to last much longer, the Netherlands mandates that the flood control system must be upgraded accordingly to changes in frequency and intensity of flood events, so that the protection stays the same if the threat changes (McQuaid, 2012, para 8). While nothing can stop a hurricane or completely protect against them, more effective and technologically advanced systems can dramatically reduce their impact.

Upgrading our levees and flood barriers are not a foreign idea to the United States. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for various homeland duties such as environmental engineering, coastal fortifications, road and canal infrastructure, and disaster relief. With the Army Corps of Engineers’ generous budget and responsibility to preserving our homeland defenses against various threats, including natural ones, the U.S can fund and build select flood barriers, which has been demonstrated in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Katrina created the highest storm surge in the U.S’s recorded history at 27.8 ft high (Kieper, n.d., Para 1). New Orleans, the city most devastated by the hurricane, is well below sea level. Before Katrina, it was protected from flooding only by a handful of rundown dams and levees. During the hurricane, all of these systems failed to be enough and residents had fled to rooftops to escape the water as 80% of the city became submerged. Relief was painfully slow, as the hurricane caused over $150 billion in damage and economic costs (“Hurricane Katrina”, 2009; “11 Facts About Hurricane Katrina”, n.d., para 7&8). To fortify the city against such a devastating effect again, the Army Corps of Engineers has built a flood barrier around New Orleans, which should have been in place before Katrina (Burnett, 2015). This individual flood barrier cost approximately $1.1 billion to build; while this may seem like an astronomical number, it is dwarfed by the $150 billion that the storm generated. The Louisiana coast is considered to be much safer with the flood barrier, which is considered a state entity to consolidate and provide better flood control after the hurricane (Burnett, 2015, para 4).

Some may be skeptical of the cost of investment in flood barriers as these systems are expensive and take years to complete. Furthermore, even with our current technology, we cannot guarantee complete safety. Flood protection systems have failed in the past raising questions about our ability to protect our coastal communities, and this concern comes with good reason. When Katrina made landfall in August 2005 as a category 5 hurricane, New Orleans’ levee system, which was designed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, failed due to high wind speeds, heavy rain, and high storm surge. The city, where 50% of its residents lives below sea level, flooded taking 1,500 lives and causing $108 billion worth of property damage alone (“Hurricane Katrina Statistics Fast Facts”, 2017, para 1). However, advancement in hurricane forecasting has improved our ability to predict future storm intensity. Using this technology the United states Army Corps of Engineers have rewrote the standards used for flood barriers better preparing us for more severe storms and invested a total of $14 billion into improving and the levees and building new barriers to protect New Orleans (Burnett, 2017, para 5). Although, even with the rework of levee standards, retired Lt. General Robert Van Antwerp, the former commander of the Army Corps of Engineers said “though it would not be destroyed by another Katrina, it would most certainly be overtopped leading to many that will still be inundated” (Schleifstein, 2015, para 7). Divesting money from coastal protection should not be an option as the money is an investment in limited damages and is not intended to make our communities completely safe.
In 2015 the corps agreed that Louisiana’s levee system needed to be reevaluated by 2018. This occurred after Bob Jacobsen, who was hired to run storm surge models, found that many levees in the east bank system would fail if a 200 year storm hit, which has a .2% chance of happening in any given year. Over the next 50 years there will be $50 billion worth of projects improving New Orleans levees with risk reduction and land protection as the goal. The corps have proposed both 400 year and 1,000 year protection plans both costing $59 billion to $139 billion (Schleifstein, 2015, para 32). The corps argue that if we are going to spend the money to protect against a 100 year storm, we might as well go for the most protection possible.

Upgrades to our current flood protection systems will not be enough to protect our coastal communities. It would be most beneficial to build new flood barriers around the cities most in danger from hurricanes. An example of where there could be implemented is New York City, where flood barriers have been considered following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (McGeehan, 2017). Hurricane Sandy caused widespread power outages, took dozens of lives, and caused billions of dollars in damage (Sharp, 2012). If a simple flood barrier were to be built protecting New York City, it would cost about $11.6 billion, and if three barriers were built along New York coast, the estimated cost is $14.7 billion (Timmer, 2014, para 8). These are costly options, yet Hurricane Sandy caused $65 billion in damage to New York (Rice & Dastagir, 2013, para 2). No matter the price tag on a flood barrier, severe hurricanes rack up a larger one. With the success of barriers in other countries and in New Orleans, barriers are a solution to protect ourselves against dangerous storms as climate change cause worse and worse hurricane events.

This past hurricane season has been swirling through the United States at unprecedented rates. The eight major hurricanes that made landfall along our coasts is double the normal average for the hurricane season (Rice, 2017). Hurricanes are being affected by rising sea surface temperatures, due to global warming. In turn, hurricanes are more intense, occurring more often. This has created a vital need for a more secure defense system against hurricanes and storm surges. In Louisiana and New York, it is agreed that adequate flood barriers would have reduced cost and life loss due to the hurricanes. If better flood barriers were to be built, then the cost could be estimated to be about $12 billion per city, referencing the costs approximated for New York. If we were to build around three cities with the highest risk, then it likely cost $36 billion. While that is a large cost, hurricane Harvey was dramatically larger at $180 billion. Building three barriers does not even equate the cost of a singular hurricane. Providing at risk areas with more effective protection against hurricanes will be undoubtedly beneficial, economically and personally. The damages that hurricanes inflict are far greater than the simple price of building and maintaining effective barriers. The lives, and money, saved are more than enough reason to build flood barriers around dangerous coastal areas.  


Jennifer Beattie – Natural Resource Conservation

Juliana Berube – Natural Resource Conservation

Tyler Weeks – Building Construction Technology



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Susan and her entire family waded from her house in Houston Texas to a neighbor’s home on higher ground the morning that Hurricane Harvey hit in late August. Susan Magee a 44 year old wife and mother of two recounts her story of being evacuated from her home in the wake of of torrential rains.  Waking up her girls and telling them to pack three outfits each was one of the easier parts from her experience. The harder ones were leaving everything except her family, pets, and legal documents. Leaving the only place her two daughters have ever called home. The one space where she and her husband lived together. She acknowledges that her home was not the most spectacular building ever built but says that she did not “mind spending their savings on the down payment” (Holter, 2017). After the devastating results of the storm that was thought to only bring a few inches of water into their home (Holter, 2017), Susan comments that for the meantime they will be staying in a hotel, and are living off of donations and gifts from friends including her friends and more extended family. She sums up her struggle of being in need of assistance and simultaneously proud, she speaks on behalf of her family, when she said that they will not be able to “rebuild our lives without the help of other people” yet at the same time, “we can’t do everything on our own” (Holter, 2017).

The Magees’ home is only one of an estimated 100,000 houses that were affected by Hurricane Harvey this past August (Fessler, 2017). In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, 352,000 people was allocated  $403 million in FEMA assistance (CNN, 2017).  Five years later, many families living on the east coast still cannot fix all of the damage done, in terms of of the thousands of homes completely destroyed, and 90 lives lost (Schlossberg, 2015, para. 3). While we can continually rebuild and replace buildings and homes, we cannot bring back the lives taken in these increasingly worse coastal storms. In the past 30 years, floods have killed more than 500,000 people globally, and displaced about 650 million (Michaels, 2016, para. 1). Hurricane Harvey’s damage is estimated to be about $190 billion in damages, while the costs of Irma are projected to reach $100 billion. These costs burden taxpayers as they entail disruption to business, transportation and infrastructure damages, unemployment periods for many lasting up to months, loss of goods and crop (including 25 percent of orange crop), increased fuel prices, and property damages (Wile, 2017).  The United States government cannot afford the associated costs of building and rebuilding in these increasingly flood prone regions, nor can taxpayers. Because of society’s communal connections to land and region, it is understandable as to why people have chosen to settle their homes and communities on the coast. We have always been infatuated with living close to the beauty of nature, and water systems in close proximity have helped to support communities for centuries (Wilson et. al, 2010).

Instead of trying to dictate over nature or institutions that are intended for communities to seek assistance in order to rebuild and replace, perhaps we should shift our efforts that keep us safe financially and through damages that effect loss of lives and livelihood (Revkin, 2017, Sec. 2). It is the consensus of the scientific community that we are seeing increasingly intense hurricanes due to our warming climate (GFDL, 2017). Coastal communities have reflected devastating costs and damages more than any other community. If we can understand this relationship of increasing hurricanes due to the state of our changing climate, we can be more proactive in our future actions surrounding coastal development. Given that climate change is intensifying hurricanes, we must change the National Flood Insurance program to discourage future building in areas that will be prone to more frequent floods.

In 1968 Congress created the National Flood Insurance program (NFIP) after a series of hurricane-induced disasters.  The federal government got involved in existing disaster assistance programs by providing financial support only if a flood was officially declared to be a major disaster for communities that could not afford to continually support themselves (Lee & Wessel, 2017, para. 3). The NFIP is a federally subsidized program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that enables homeowners, businesses, and renters in participating communities to insure their property if it is at risk of flood damage (Lee & Wessel 2017, para. 2). It was originally planned also that the federal government would make insurance available only within communities that adopted and enforced orders to manage development in floodplains (Lee & Wessels, 2017, para. 4). It has three components: Hazard identification and mapping, Floodplain management criteria and mitigation, and flood insurance (Lee & Wessel, 2017, para. 3).  

Roughly 28.2% of the United States population lives in a coastal hurricane-prone regions according to American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) criterion (Crowell, et al., 2010) and half are adopting insurance policies.  The ASCE definition of hurricane-prone regions as areas in the US Atlantic Ocean and and Gulf of Mexico where the wind is more than 90 miles per hour as well as islands off our coasts including but not limited to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam (ASCE, 2006). While the rates of adopting flood insurance policies among coastal communities is high, it is much lower inland.

When considering how people are able to live in these flood prone coastal zones, origins dates back to development and settlement in the coastal regions of the United States. Floodplain areas, or low-lying areas subject to flooding from a nearby waterbody, were advantageous to inland agricultural communities as a means of irrigation. For economic benefit, large cities were built near rivers and coastlines. This is because residents benefited from lower transport costs since they were close to ports and any trade that occurred there. In modern times we have improved transportation methods which makes this advantage obsolete (Michaels, 2016). Taking this into consideration, many people have lived in these areas for a long time, making it difficult to stop development in these areas where people live (Wile, 2017)

Additionally, the NFIP has incentivized living in these areas, making it not only possible to live here, but an attractive option. When people’s homes get destroyed they are simply able to rely on their flood insurance to rebuild their properties every time they there is damage (Lee & Wessel, 2017, para. 14).  The NFIP incentivizes this by offering low premium rates to those who need to insure their homes against flood damage. Federal funding easily repairs damages, the communities there are very resilient, and are able to keep rebuilding themselves to stay there.

The original objectives of the NFIP were to prevent unwise floodplain development through zonal mapping  ensure that property owners could receive coverage at a reasonable cost, get a large number of communities and property owners to buy insurance, and finally to base premiums on federal assessments of flooding risk so people would be aware of and bear the cost of choices they make (Lee & Wessel, 2017).

Most NFIP insurance policies are sold and run by private insurers under FEMA’s Write Your Own (WYO) program. The WYO is a program designed for FEMA and private insurers to collaborate, under FEMA’s rules and regulations. WYO allows the involved insurers to write and service the Standard Flood Insurance Policy (SFIP) in their own names. As agents of the federal government, the insurers receive an expense allowance for policies and claims processed while the federal government is responsible for underwriting losses (FEMA, 2017 & Marker, 2012). It is important to note that these insurers primarily serve an administrative function. This is a potential flaw with the NFIP because it means they do not bear the burden and associated risks with actually paying insurance claims (Lee & Wessel, 2017). This is problematic because they might be less cautious about building in flood-prone regions.

One issue making it difficult to disinvolve the NFIP from coastal development is the NFIP’s grandfathering rules. Grandfathering ensures that properties re-categorized as being at a higher risk of flooding under revised flood insurance maps will not be subject to large increases (Insurance Information Institute, 2017). Redrawing the flood-risk lines on insurance maps did not affect the low rates of insurance regardless of higher risk zone assessment (III, 2017).

While the NFIP has provided some coastal protection by providing incentives for new homes to be elevated above surge levels as well as strengthening buildings against windstorm damage, there still has been no solution to adapt to issues of increasing of sea level rise and increase of more intense hurricanes (Leathermann, 2017). It is due to lack of strict regulation by the NFIP, that there has been uneven enforcement of building restrictions on the floodplain (Revkin, 2017).

By making insurance for property in coastal regions readily accessible and appealing, the NFIP has led to a large amount of coastal development. The NFIP provides insurance at sizeable discounts for homes and other buildings constructed in flood-prone areas (Kristian, 2017, para. 4). This flood insurance is a federal mandate to have a mortgage in these zones (FEMA, 2017). One proposed idea is an increased premium price to cover and reflect the high risk of floodplain construction (Kristian, 2017, para. 6). This would then discourage vulnerable building plans among those who cannot afford to cover the cost of storm damage. As a result of more people being able to afford insurance in these areas, we have seen more properties being damaged by repeated flooding by increasingly intense hurricanes (Michaels, 2016, para. 3).

Hurricane intensity or severity are defined in a couple of ways. Firstly, we use the category or Saffir-Simpson scale of the hurricane, which is measured by the intensity of winds at the event on a scale of 1 to 5. Storm surge can be used to measure intensity as it examines an abnormal rise in water level on a coast. It is the water from the ocean that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the hurricane. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides and can increase the water level by 30 feet or more. Storm surge combined with waves can cause extensive damage(US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011). Meanwhile, having a landfall hurricane means the eye of the storm reached land (Nosowit, 2012). When examining Sea surface temperature (SST) we found that it is a measurement of energy levels on the top layer of the ocean due to the movement of molecules. Spaceborne measurements give us a global measurement of sea surface temperatures (US Department of Commerce NOAA, 2011). Sea level rise (SLR) is the rise in global sea levels due to increase in temperature caused by release of greenhouse gasses as a result of fossil fuel combustion. The warming atmosphere transfers heat to the ocean’s surface waters and expands its volume (Ocean Health Index, 2017).With a better understanding of the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, we will be able to implement the steps needed to prevent the associated economic, social, and environmental damages. In order to gain this deeper understanding, the scientific community considered various measures such as increasing SSTs, sea level rises, and landfall hurricanes.

Linear correlation showed there was a significantly high chance (82%) that global temperature  (GT) was causing an increase in SST. When it was tested inversely, for increased SST causing change in GT, it had an insignificant 31% of causality, much lower compared to the other way around. This statistic shows that there is a very high chance warmer global temperatures cause increased Atlantic SST (Elsner, J., 2006). Elsner (2006) explains that as climate change heats the Earth, the seas warm up and store significant amount of energy, which is converted to hurricane wind. This means that with climate change warming global surface temperatures, SSTs are then raised as a result. This increase is SST also has a significant effect on hurricanes. The rise in SST is causing more intense hurricanes. Major hurricanes, which are a Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale-which measures wind speeds to measure potential property damage (NOAA) , may intensify in response to the warming SST associated with global warming (Mousavi et al, 2011). They state that there is an average 8% increase in hurricane intensity for every 1 degree celsius of SST rise (Mousavi et al., 2011, p. 577). These results also indicate that local sea surface warming was responsible for 40% of the increase in hurricane activity relative to the 1950–2000 average between 1996 and 2005, which proved this to be a notably big increase (Saunders and Lea, 2008). This means that tropical hurricanes on Atlantic are extremely susceptible to intensity increase and frequency, with an increase in SST. This leads us to believe an increase in Climate change and GT, is causing more intense hurricanes overall.

Sea Level Rise (SLR) plays a huge role in hurricane intensity. SLR projections show that catastrophic ice-sheet melting, as a result of climate change, estimate SLR increases of 1 m or more over the next century (Mousavi et al. 2011).  This increase in SLR can mean one thing, more fuel for hurricanes and more water for the hurricanes to help the formation of floods. The storm surge is difference in water from normal to flood height (NOAA, 2017). Landfall hurricanes become increasingly dangerous as water is added to create flooding. An increase in SLR will give them the storm surge they need to cause more deadly floods. Balaguru. Et al. (2015) shows there is a 90% increase in storm surge due to SLR when looking at the projection from the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes(SLOSH) projection. This means the intensity of storm surge in mainly dependent on, and worsened by increasing sea level.  This increase in SLR leads to more storm surge, which in turn causes more floods. A study shows between 1970 and 1999 the highest amount of fatalities during a hurricane was from floods. It also showed floods contributed in approximately 59% of the fatalities during hurricanes (Kaye, 2008).

With climate change leading to both more intense hurricanes and more SLR, we can only expect the number of fatalities and damages to go up from here. If the predictions and the projections are true, the more intense storms with higher SSR will keep doing more damage if we keep on building these coastal communities. As it currently stand there is an average of 28 Billion dollars against an 18 Billion dollar budget (CBO, 2017, slide 4). The projections show this number is going to increase and is going to be a 39 Billion dollars worth of damage versus a 24 Billion dollars budget (CBO, 2017, slide 4). That is why it is crucial to move people away from coastal areas to more inland.

One of the first actions to take is to improve floodplain maps to more accurately describe the flood risk and extent of the floodplain. Floodplain mapping is defined as a system in which the height of the 100-yr flood is estimated with at least a confidence interval of 50%, but the higher the confidence interval level goes the more accurate, more reliable and overall better the map would be (Burby, 2001). Floodplain mapping can help identify the safe locations. This will reduce and discourage development in the remainder of floodplain. One issue is that currently FEMA does not incorporate climate change projections or sea-level rise in their flood insurance maps. As it stands, they state their policy does not map flood hazards “based on anticipated future sea levels or climate change” and that “over the lifespan of a study, changes in flood hazards from sea level rise and climate change are typically not large enough to affect the validity of the study results” (FEMA 2017).  If Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps incorporated future climate conditions, it would send a ripple effect into real estate and insurance markets. This would be something the public would have to acknowledge. If the federal government made it a legal requirement to have projected climate conditions to be considered in the flood insurance risk maps, construction practices would change to be more precautious (Revkin, 2017). Of course mapping these floodplain areas can also spread awareness. By mapping these and showing them to the community, they can be aware of the dangers, risks and consequences of building in these areas. So instead of doing the cheaper option, they can go the safer way.

People in hurricane zones are able to pay the cheap insurance premium and get subsidized in return after the hurricane damage. These cheaper insurances discourage people to build in other safer area but it prompts them to rebuild in the same area. Enforcing higher flood insurance premiums makes it more difficult to get federal disaster assistance, while reflecting the actual damages (Flavelle, 2017). There is evidence of insurance policies going more towards this direction. In 2012 congress passed the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act, which aimed to extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years (Kunreuther & Michel-Kerjan, 2017). The main focus of this extension was placing more of the insurance risks onto coastal property owners. When it gets more difficult and more expensive to get federal insurance, the more individuals and local officials would care about where to build, therefore building less in flood risk areas. As it is, when insurance premiums are too low and do not reflect the actual risk of loss, a resulting subsidy on the coastal development encourages people to support sprawling floodplain building (Burby, 2001). This is what we are currently witnessing in coastal communities, and we see it reflected in the sizable 28.2% of the United States population currently living in these coastal regions (Crowell et al. 2010). If they were able to raise the cost, that incentive would be removed. The NFIP cannot accommodate the future scale of  flood damages that are rapidly increasing under a changing climate; a study commissioned by FEMA to help it gain better understanding of this (AECOM 2013) has shown that existing 1% flood hazard zones are fundamentally underestimated given ongoing climatic change (Shively, 2017). Making the insurances more inaccessible, more difficult to get and more expensive would eventually help the community. With more difficult to attain insurance, people will be urged to build in safe floodplain areas, discouraging further development in flood zones. (Flavelle, 2017; Burby 2001). If it becomes unattainable, development will be forced more inland.

There is no doubt that raising premiums and making insurance less accessible will be difficult to pass initially. This is because homeowners will not want their insurance costs raised, and homebuilders will not want to be out of business if coastal development is discouraged. For homeowners, if the premium is raised they might benefit from moving to a safer region inland. In doing this, we believe that the burden of losing their belongings and endangering their families will be eased. While many items can arguable be replaced by insurance, there are a fair amount of things that are irreplaceable. They also will not suffer from the economic loss of unemployment periods, associated with the damage from hurricanes in these flood regions (Wiles, 2017). As for homebuilders, if the rates increase they might lose money at first. Everyone moving away from the coastal communities and less people building near the coast will have an impact on them in the beginning, but over time they would have more chances to build bigger and better complexes away from the flood risk without their building and houses being destroyed. It can also provide the homebuilders with a safe community they can live in themselves with their families (Friedman & Scism, 2017).

We propose that the package of bills proposed by the House Financial Services Committee, pushed by Chairman Jen Hansarling (R-TX) be passed into law. The bill package would renew the NFIP program for five years. It would also enact the raise of insurance premiums, which we advocated for. In doing so it would make coverage more expensive for policyholders, and make it easier for private companies to sell their own flood insurance policies (Lee & Wessel, 2017). We also propose the passage into law of the House and Senate backed bill called; Sustainable, Affordable, Fair and Efficient (SAFE) NFIP Reauthorization Act. This bill supports what we suggested as it calls for greater investments in flood risk mapping and risk mitigation (Lee & Wessel, 2017).


Amir Entekhabi – Environmental Science

Rachel Finn – Natural Resource Conservation

Keren Radbil – Agricultural and Environmental education



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