Urban golf courses as refuge for red-headed woodpeckers in Chicago

Authors: Vincent Frano, Horticulture Major; Cian Gulsen, Horticulture Major; and Anna Ashe-Simmer, Natural Resource Conservation Major.

 

In 1827, John J. Audubon published Birds of America, a 435 page book of full-color bird illustrations and accompanying field notes for each species (Audubon, n.d.).  There are ten pages devoted to American woodpeckers, including one small, Midwestern native: the red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (Audubon, n.d.).  In his observations, Audubon wrote, “It is impossible to form any estimate of the number of these birds seen in the United States during the summer months…” (Audubon, n.d.).  He claims he observed someone shoot more than one-hundred red-headed woodpeckers from a cherry tree in a single day (Audubon, n.d.). Clearly, they were abundant.

Though Audubon believed the bird to be common when he wrote his book, the red-headed woodpecker was already experiencing declines within its native range (Audubon, n.d.; Kaufman, n.d.).  A variety of factors are responsible for the decline of this species, but loss of critical oak-savanna habitat has been particularly detrimental (Koenig, Walters, & Rodewald, 2017). The red-headed woodpecker is native to the Midwestern oak-savanna, a habitat type that consists of a grassland understory interspersed with large, old-growth oak trees (Santiago, 2004).  The oak-savanna is important for this species for food resources (this species feeds on insects, invertebrates, berries, and acorns) and nesting habitat (they primarily nest in cavities in dead or decaying trees) (Dey & Kabrick, 2015; Kaufman, n.d.).  Prior to European colonization, the oak-savanna covered an estimated 27-32 million acres across the Midwest, an area roughly the size of Mississippi (Santiago, 2004; IPL.org, n.d).  But by 1985, only 6,442 acres of this critical habitat remained–0.02% of the original area (Santiago, 2004). The land was primarily cleared for lumber, farmland, and housing developments (Santiago, 2004).  

As urbanization has increased during the last century, the red-headed woodpeckers have simultaneously experienced more drastic population declines than ever before (Koenig, et. al., 2017).  Once a common and abundant species, red-headed woodpecker populations have declined by 60% since the 1960’s (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016). It is currently listed on both the 2015 State of the Birds Report’s Yellow Watch List and as ‘near threatened’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2017 report (Koenig, et. al., 2017).  Urban spaces are often void of adequate green space with dead or decaying trees for nesting or an abundance of oak trees as food supply, and are therefore unlikely to be inhabited by the red-headed woodpecker (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016; Rodewald et al., 2005; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011; Kaufman, n.d.).

Large metropolitan cities can pose particular problems for the red-headed woodpecker due to high human population density and expansiveness (Santiago, 2004).  Chicago, Illinois is the third largest metropolitan area in the United States and the largest within the range of the red-headed woodpecker, with a footprint of over 227 square miles (145,280 acres) (U.S. Census, 2010).  During the mid-1800s, Chicago experienced dramatic urbanization (Dreyfus, 1995). Between 1850 and 1860 the city’s population tripled and continued to grow with the advent of railroads, which led to the rapid transformation of land into urban area (Dreyfus, 1995). While population growth has slowed in the last century, population density has increased. The human population density in Chicago has increased by more than 1.2% between 2010 and 2016 (Kolko, 2017).  In comparison, New York’s density only rose by 0.5% in the same time (Kolko, 2017). As population density intensifies, so does housing development, and green space has become increasingly hard to find (Kolko, 2017). And while human development is expanding, only 8.5% of the land area in Chicago is designated public parks, compared to more than double this in New York City (Harnik & Donahue, 2012, p. 10). As urbanization expands, adequate habitat for the red-headed woodpecker has become increasingly limited.

Red-headed woodpeckers are important to the urban environment due to their ability to create wildlife habitat for other species (Wenny, et. al., 2011).  Woodpeckers forage and nest in snags, and as a result, create cavities in the tree that can be utilized by other species (Gentry & Vierling, 2008). In a study conducted in South Dakota, American kestrels, black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, bats, and Northern flying squirrels were found nesting in cavities created by red-headed woodpeckers.  These species are all secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they rely on excavators like the red-headed woodpecker to create cavities in snags (Gentry & Vierling, 2008). In urban areas, where biodiversity tends to be low, this species can provide important habitat for a variety of species that would otherwise not exist in the urban landscape.  

Red-headed woodpeckers can have positive impacts on the local urban ecosystem by improving the health of the surrounding oak trees (Santiago, 2004).  In Chicago, the native oak tree population has been in decline in recent decades (Nowak, et. al., 2013). Many of Chicago’s large, old oaks were planted before the city was urbanized, and are now reaching the end of their lifespans (Nowak, et al., 2013).  They have had difficulty seeding due to the large expanses of impervious surfaces (i.e. roads and sidewalks) and lack of acorn dispersers (Nowak, et. al., 2013; Wenny, et. al., 2011). Studies have shown that avian acorn dispersers (like the red-headed woodpecker) are key species in urban parks with large oak stands (Wenny, et. al., 2011).  In Stockholm, Sweden, Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) were found to be responsible for over 85% of acorn dispersal in an old-growth oak forest in an urban park (Hougner, Colding, Söderqvist, 2006, p. 370).  The oaks in this landscape consequently support communities of nesting birds and bats, lichens, and insects (Hougner, et. al., 2006). Red-headed woodpeckers also feed on oak acorns in the Midwestern US, and, like the Eurasian Jay, create large stores of acorns to feed on during winter months when insects are sparse (Smith, 1986).  Oaks in the Midwest rely on birds like woodpeckers to disperse their seeds, and woodpeckers benefit from the existence of oaks for winter food resources (Smith, 1986). In an urban landscape like Chicago, there are limited seed resources for woodpeckers and limited seed dispersers for oaks (Santiago, 2004). The mutualistic relationship between the two can be especially beneficial in an urban environment where biodiversity and resources are limited.

Red-headed woodpeckers are also important in urban environments for pest control.  In Chicago, for instance, there has been a significant rise in the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis, abbv. EAB). EAB is an invasive beetle that devours the bark of ash trees, and is responsible for killing more than 54 million ash trees in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio alone (Koenig & Liebhold, 2017).  This poses a significant problem in Chicago–ash trees make up more than 17% of the city’s street trees, not including the more than 300,000 ash that exist on private lands (i.e. private golf courses) (City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, 2018).  Breakouts of EAB are extremely costly due to the limited effectiveness of insecticides and the high cost of cutting down infected trees (Streets and Sanitation, 2018). However, studies have shown that woodpeckers significantly reduce EAB populations (Koenig & Liebhold, 2017).  Red-headed woodpeckers feed heavily on EAB larvae during breakouts. During winter, when EAB larvae are most accessible to insectivorous birds, red-headed woodpecker population increased more than 48.5% (Koenig & Liebhold, 2017). In Chicago, improving habitat for red-headed woodpeckers has the potential to reduce future outbreaks of EAB in the city.

Green spaces within urban environments are important for species like the red-headed woodpecker.  Golf courses are a particularly useful as habitat due to their abundance and size (Santiago, 2004). They are continuing to increase in number, with an 18% increase between 1987 and 1996 (Tanner & Gange, 2004, p. 138). Within the Chicago metro area there are over 200 golf courses, six of which are part of the city’s 8,100 acre municipal park district (Golf Advisor, n.d.). An average 18-hole golf course sits on 133 acres, and up to 70% is considered to be out of play areas that hold the potential to support wildlife (Saarikivi, 2016, p. 9). This translates to a potential 558 acres of wildlife habitat available on golf courses within Chicago’s municipal parks alone. However, the design and maintenance of golf courses are important factors that determine whether they can support a red-headed woodpecker population (Koenig, et. al., 2017). Water use, chemical applications, water features and habitat modifications are all concerns that must be addressed in determining ecological benefits. A number of studies show that golf courses can benefit biodiversity under sustainable and ecologically-friendly management practices (Colding et al., 2009; Jim & Chen, 2016; Kohler et al., 2004; Mankin, 2000; Salgot & Tapias, 2006; Tanner & Gange, 2005; Yasuda & Koike, 2004).

In urban settings, golf courses with forest cover can support a thriving red-headed woodpecker population by providing habitat that is scarce in the surrounding environment. Red-headed woodpeckers favor landscapes with forest cover, open understories, lower canopies, and proximity to open grassland (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016; Rodewald et al., 2005). Given this, golf courses have the potential to support these birds by providing ideal habitat. Open areas, like fairways, allow the woodpeckers to forage for insects in flight (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016). Additionally, waterways, such as constructed wetlands and fairway ponds, act as breeding sites for insects, the primary summer food of red-headed woodpeckers (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016). Studies have shown that the red-headed woodpecker prefers nesting sites within close proximity to waterways, which may be related to insect abundance (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016; Rodewald et al., 2005). This further suggests that golf courses, with their varied landscapes, can allow the species to thrive in urban environments.

One concern is the effect that daily use of courses by golfers and frequent maintenance activities might have on nesting woodpeckers. However, nesting activity on golf courses seems more related to the presence of favorable nesting sites than levels of human activity ((Rodewald, Santiago, & Rodewald, 2005). Of 17 golf courses studied in Ohio, 49 active nest were recorded, suggesting the woodpeckers are not likely dissuaded by golf course activity (Rodewald, Santiago, & Rodewald, 2005, p. 451). Courses with resident red-headed woodpeckers had twice as many snags and trees with dead branches compared to courses that lacked woodpeckers (Rodewald, Santiago, & Rodewald, 2005, p. 451). Therefore the preservation of naturalistic forest areas that allow for some dead and decaying trees is most important when determining the viability of a golf course as suitable habitat.

Golf courses seem promising as urban habitat for the red-headed woodpecker, although the ecological value of golf courses is hotly debated. Opponents assert that golf courses are ecologically barren and useless to wildlife (Saarikivi, 2016). The arguments against golf courses cite heavy chemical inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, combined with intensive management and resource use, as degrading any ecological value (Saarikivi, 2016). Indeed management styles are an important consideration that needs addressing in determining the ecological value of golf courses. Pesticide use is of particular concern in supporting red-headed woodpeckers since their primary food source is insects. Plants only take up about 5% of applied pesticides, meaning the rest ends up as runoff (Royte, 2017). When runoff reaches waterways, insect breeding grounds become contaminated, killing insect larva (Royte, 2017). This can impact bird populations by reducing available food sources provided by insects not considered pest of turf (Royte, 2017). Red-headed woodpeckers have been observed foraging for insects from turf areas, which could potentially expose them to insecticides used on golf courses (Rodewald, Santiago, & Rodewald, 2005). As little as a single corn seed coated in imidacloprid, a common pesticide also used for turf grass, is enough to kill birds the size of the red-headed woodpecker (Royte, 2017). Furthermore, imidacloprid has been shown to have toxic effects on sparrows, even at doses considered sublethal (Royte, 2017). Three days following exposure, the birds had lost 25% of their bodyweight (Royte, 2017). While sublethal doses may be larger for woodpeckers due to their difference in size from sparrows, this study shows that insecticides may have negative impacts on birds like red-headed woodpeckers. Improved chemical management plans that reduce pesticide and fertilizer inputs and emphasising naturalistic landscape designs allow golf courses to become thriving ecosystems capable of supporting a diversity of life (Mankin, 2000; Saarikivi, 2016).

Even with ecological management, one may argue that golf courses do not provide suitable habitat for birds like the red-headed woodpecker due to their specific habitat requirements. Generally the snags are removed for safety reasons, as rotting and dead trees or branches can fall and pose a hazard (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011). Golf courses may also remove older or damaged trees due to management concerns. Large, older trees near tees and greens can compete with turf grass for water and produce extensive root systems that may disrupt greens (Lucas, n.d.). Damaged trees can take up canopy space, thus reducing sunlight available to nearby trees, which can reduce the growth of younger, healthier trees (Lucas, n.d.). These are legitimate concerns for golf course managers who wish to maintain the health and playability of turf areas. However, both older trees and damaged trees offer potential habitat to woodpeckers and other species (Gentry & Vierling, 2008; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011). Dead limbs can provide nesting habitat; fungus infected trees provide both food and habitat; and old trees have the potential to become large snags capable of supporting diverse animal communities (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2016;  Gentry & Vierling, 2008; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011). Adequate habitat can be maintained through careful design and management practices that allow for the preservation of snags without having to compromise golf course safety and turf grass health. Snags and decaying trees can be kept in the interior of wooded areas so that golfer safety is not compromised (Purcell, 2007). Midwestern savanna are dominated by oak species and by increasing tree density, these habitats promote species diversity in the understory vegetation (Dey & Kabrick, 2015). Woodland edges with a selection of shrubs can act as a screen for untidy natural woodland interiors and help improve golf course aesthetics (Purcell, 2007).

Integral design features, like forested areas and constructed wetlands, can create a favorable ecosystem to help support red-headed woodpecker diversity. (Love, 2008). A typical 18-hole golf course has an average of 93 acres that are considered to be rough areas of the hole or out of play (Saarikivi, 2016, p. 9). These areas are unused by golfers, and have the potential to provide habitat for a variety of birds including the red-headed woodpecker (Saarikivi, 2016). Species like the eastern bluebird, tree swallow, purple martin, red-cockaded woodpecker, and osprey can utilize these rough areas as habitat if it is improved for wildlife (Saarikivi, 2016; Rodewald et al., 2005; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011). Naturally existing trees are an integral component of golf courses that provide specific areas of vegetation required for connectivity of adjacent wildlife (Love, 2008). While populations of the red-headed woodpecker have plummeted due to urbanization, the species thrives in the habitats of golf courses due to the sheltering canopy of large trees in the area (Saarikivi, 2016). In a study focused on the red-headed woodpecker population in Cook County, IL (a county that includes the city of Chicago), researchers found that only 7 of the 34 nesting trees were located in city parks while the remaining 27 appeared in forested areas of the city (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2015, p. 305). This suggests that the woodpecker needs large, uninterrupted areas of green space as opposed to isolated parks (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2015).  A golf course is a large enough green space to act as habitat for the woodpecker if the area of forest cover is increased (Saarikivi, 2016).

To effectively promote the red-headed woodpecker population in Chicago, golf course managers should convert rough areas and out-of play areas to mimic the oak-savanna ecosystem.  Woodpeckers need low tree density, with low to moderate canopy cover, and sufficient abundance of insects, acorns, and visible fungus on trees (food source) in order to nest in the area (Kaufman, n.d.; Anderson & LaMontagne, 2015). Mid-western oak-savannas are dominated by oak species, but tree reproduction is patchy, resulting in a spacious layout of trees (Dey & Kabrick, 2015). The uneven distribution of the tree canopies in savannas and low density creates a range of canopy cover from full to open space (Dey & Kabrick, 2015).  A complete management system must be instituted in order to promote an artificial oak-savanna habitat on golf courses. Introducing long-lasting oak species like the Post Oak (that lives over 400 years), can distribute a number of seeds for regeneration, and then be removed before it dominates the landscape (Dey & Kabrick, 418). Highly monitored prescribed burning or chemical applications, as well as tree removal, can aid in the decrease of tree density when it becomes too high (Dey & Kabrick, 2015). Over time, the habitat will thrive with a varying age-range of its tree species which can sustain the ideal tree density required by the red-headed woodpecker (Dey & Kabrick, 2015; Anderson & LaMontagne, 2015).  Restoration of these oak-dominated ecosystems on golf courses would promote the population of red-headed woodpeckers, which would then promote acorn dispersal of oaks in the area, and the health of both oaks and red-headed woodpeckers would be vastly improved (Dey & Kabrick, 2015; Wenny et. al., 2011). By creating an artificial oak-savanna habitat on golf courses within the city of Chicago, critical habitat area for the red-headed woodpecker can expand, leading to potential increases in its population (Dey & Kabrick, 2015; Santiago, 2004).

Proper water quality is one of the most vital components for maintaining suitable woodpecker habitat, and specific design features can improve this (Love, 2008). Constructed wetlands and water features are important design components that ensure uncontaminated water. Clean water promotes tree and vegetation development, which in turn allows for a clean environment and drinking water for the woodpeckers. Constructed wetlands can potentially remove between 95% and 100% of nitrogen and up to 74% of phosphorus resulting from fertilizer applications (Kohler et al., 2004, p. 291- 294). Without proper water quality, the tree density and fungal requirements favored by red-headed woodpeckers wouldn’t be as readily available because the habitat itself wouldn’t grow. Wetlands are habitat for many protected wildlife and plants and can be implemented on golf courses (Love, 2008). Constructed wetlands can positively affect surrounding waterways by acting as a filtration system, reducing contaminants in runoff from golf courses and surrounding urban areas (Kohler, Poole, Reicher, & Turco, 2004). Sand caps, bioswales (sloped mounds on the course), wet cells (low areas that collect water), and tall grass buffers also help to reduce surface runoff (Miltner, 2007). Sand caps are a set depth of sand underneath the course that allow for infiltration and stormwater storage and bioswales, wet cells, and tall grass buffers are strategically placed on the course to trap water in the turfgrass where it is filtered out by microorganisms and plant roots (Miltner, 2007). Tall grass buffers located on the edge of bodies of water intercept polluted runoff between the golf course and the body of water and can significantly reduce nutrient and sediment runoff (Mackay, 2001).  A buffer is maintained with plants that reduce stormwater flow and pollution runoff (Mackay, 2001). Water features provide aesthetic appeal as well as improve erosion control and stormwater management which aids in the quality of the watershed of the area (Love, 2008). If properly designed to coordinate with pre-existing drainage patterns, constructed wetlands can help reduce fertilizer and pesticide runoff (Love, 2008). Grass cover also helps to reduce runoff; when turf is properly managed to maintain ample coverage, runoff can be reduced by 8mm per year compared to unmanaged conditions (Mankin, 2000, p. 265). This is because the turf forms a tightly compact system of roots and a grass canopy that make it very difficult for surface runoff to “run”and leach into soil or waterways (Mugaas, Agnew, Christians, 2005). Sustainable management practices benefit biodiversity by preserving a thriving ecosystem that can also improve water quality, making golf courses a potential safe-haven for the declining woodpecker population.

However, not all golf course owners are willing to voluntarily make changes to their courses for the sake of threatened species like the red-headed woodpecker (Looney, 2017; Rubin, 2017).  Conservation easements offer a promising framework to incentivise land conservation and encourage golf course owners to adopt these sustainable management practices (Rubin, 2017). In 1976, Congress passed the Tax Reform Act, which included a conservation easement program to incentivize landowners to donate their land to conservation organizations (Parker, 2005).  In return, landowners receive a tax deduction equal to market value of the land that is donated (Looney, 2017). Landowners agree to permanent development restrictions on their land, and all development rights are donated to a land trust (Rubin, 2017). Essentially, this ensures that the land is protected from any further development (even if the land is later sold or divided), but the landowner still has the rights to continue managing it for certain government-approved uses (Parker, 2005).  These uses are intended to be of low impact to the environment, such as for historical importance, agricultural use, wildlife habitat, and/or outdoor recreation (Parker, 2005). Golf courses, being primarily used for outdoor recreation and having the potential to provide wildlife habitat, are therefore eligible for this conservation easement program (Parker, 2005). Golf courses that are protected under conservation easement programs can never be converted to housing developments, which is especially important in urban spaces like Chicago, where green space is scarce (Rubin, 2017; Harnik & Donahue, 2012).  

The conservation easement program has been effective at promoting wildlife habitat on some golf courses.  The Merit Club is an example of a golf course that has successfully converted out-of-play areas into wildlife habitat after enrolling in the conservation easement program (Taggart & Roe, 2010). Located in the Chicago suburbs, the golf course is part of a network of protected lands that are home to 14 endangered species (Taggart & Roe, 2010, p. 393). The 318 acre property includes 165 acres of restored tall-grass prairie, wetlands, and oak-savanna. This land provides valuable habitat for native species (Taggart & Roe, 2010, p. 393). The Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Ocean County, New Jersey is another example of conservation easement success. The coastal golf club maintains native grasslands, riparian habitats, and wetlands that are home to 58 species of birds and numerous other wildlife (NJ Audubon Society, 2014, p.13) . In addition to offering a pristine environment for playing golf, the golf club provides opportunities to educate the public on land stewardship and conservation. In this way they encourage members of the community to implement habitat improvements on their properties, thus creating interconnected habitat (NJ Audubon Society, 2014). Both golf clubs are a testament to conservation easement programs at work. While regular monitoring and maintenance are required to ensure natural areas remain intact, money gained from the conservation easement program is intended to support the enhancement of natural areas (Rubin, 2017).

However, conservation easements have been misused in recent times, especially when concerning golf courses (Rubin, 2017). Kiva Dunes is a 368 acre golf course located along the coast of Alabama.  Shortly after constructing the course in 1992, the property owner donated the land as a part of a conservation easement and consequently received a $29 million tax deduction (Deal, 2013, p. 1590; Looney, 2017, p. 19).  President Donald Trump received a $39.1 million tax deduction in 2005 for a conservation easement on one of his New Jersey golf courses (Rattner, 2016). These easements were incredibly lucrative for landowners, yet their benefits towards conservation are debatable (Looney, 2017). Currently the IRS is the primary organization providing oversight of conservation easements (Moorhead, 2016). They have contested and brought to court questionable tax deductions, such as the one claimed by Kiva Dunes (Moorhead, 2016). However, the IRS is not well equipped to monitor conservation easements regularly and they are not always successful in contesting golf course tax deductions (Moorhead, 2016).

Critics of the easement program have argued that golf courses should be excluded from tax deduction incentive altogether due to their costliness and ineffectiveness (Rattner, 2016).  However, in urban spaces, golf courses have incredible potential to act as wildlife habitat (Saarikivi, 2016). By creating clearer standards and specific management requirements, conservation easement programs can effectively promote habitat for the red-headed woodpecker on golf courses in Chicago.  Organizations like Audubon International are already working with some golf course owners on a voluntary basis to improve the quality of wildlife habitat (Audubon International, n.d.). Currently the non-profit organization works with golf courses to become a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary (Audubon International, n.d.). There are already 8 golf courses within Chicago that are active members of this program (Audubon International, n.d.). Interested golf courses must undergo stringent habitat, water management, and pest management practice reviews in order to be approved (Audubon International, n.d.). Every three years a review process is required in order to maintain membership (Audubon International, n.d.). Those that do not meet their criteria are rejected from the program (Audubon International, n.d.). For those that do not yet meet the necessary criteria, Audubon International consults with golf course owners to develop an ecological management and land stewardship plan (Audubon International, n.d.).

A similar model could be used by the federal government to create a Conservation Easement Oversight Commission (CEOC) that could oversee and approve all land donations by golf courses, ensuring that donated land is maintained for conservation purposes (State Auditor of Colorado, 2012). As part of this, the CEOC must keep detailed records of conservation easement holders that includes annual reviews of donated land. Like the Audubon International program, golf courses under conservation easements would be required to uphold certain standards. In addition to the CEOC, the Fish and Wildlife Service would partner with golf courses to ensure that donated land is properly maintained. Golf courses would be obligated to develop an environmental plan that is required to include wildlife and habitat management, water conservation, chemical use reduction and safety, and water quality management (Audubon International, n.d.).  Each golf course would have a management plan that focuses on species or community of concern in the area (i.e. red headed woodpecker on Chicago golf courses), and management techniques would be tailored to meet their habitat requirements (Audubon International, n.d.). Through these additional oversight measures and well defined requirements, golf course conservation easements can become effective in incentivising golf courses to create wildlife habitat.

Some may argue that improving habitat on the course will be costly due to the costs of hiring maintenance staff and landscape designers.  However, the long term costs of maintaining open woodland habitat instead of turfgrass can reduce overall costs (Audubon International, n.d.; Kiss, 1998; Purcell, 2007). Reduced chemical inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides, will reduce overhead costs (Kiss, 1998). Additionally, taking a hands off approach to out of play areas will allow for naturalistic environments, and can reduce costs associated with tree and landscape maintenance (Kiss, 1998). Golf courses are a large economical resource that have the ability to make significant environmental impacts just by purposefully designing and managing for biodiversity and ecological improvements (Saarikivi, 2016). Furthermore, tax incentive dollars can be utilized to cover the initial costs associated with design and maintenance improvements.

The red-headed woodpecker plays an important role in ecosystem dynamics in the Midwest, and has the potential to benefit the city of Chicago if golf course habitat is improved (Anderson & LaMontagne, 2015).  Woodpeckers are important for pest control within cities and can positively impact local biodiversity through seed dispersal,  (Koenig & Liebhold, 2017). However, as urbanization expands in the Midwest, critical oak-savanna habitat is becoming increasingly limited, leading to significant declines of red-headed woodpecker populations in the past decades (Blewett & Marzluff, 2005; Kight, et. al., 2012). Expanding woodland on a golf course that mimics oak-savanna habitat can create habitat for this woodpecker, and consequently create habitat for other species of birds, mammals, and insects (Dey & Kabrick, 2015).  However, an incentive program is needed to promote sustainable golf course management techniques (Looney, 2017). Conservation easements are promising options to incentivise land stewardship, but currently lack sufficient oversight (Gilligan, 2018; NJ Audubon Society, 2014; Taggart & Roe, 2010; Looney, 2017). With stricter standards and specific management requirements, conservation easement programs can effectively promote habitat for the red-headed woodpecker on golf courses in Chicago.  Implementation of this revised program on a nationwide scale could create important areas of refuge for other wildlife besides the red-headed woodpecker, and contribute to habitat restoration across the country Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011; Saarikivi, 2016; Santiago, 2004).

 

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Kohler, E. A., Poole, V. L., Reicher, Z. J., & Turco, R. F. (2004).  Nutrient, metal, and pesticide removal during storm and non-storm events by a constructed wetland on an urban golf course. Ecological Engineering, 23(4), 285-298.  doi:10.1016/j.ecoleng.2004.11.002

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Education Saves Golf Course Pesticide Usage

Cameron B. Ventre (Turfgrass Science & Management)

John R. Nestro (Natural Resource Conservation)

 

On a bright and sunny day in Arlington Virginia nearing the end of August, 30-year-old Navy Lieutenant George Prior heads to the Army Navy Country Club to play a few rounds of golf.  Afterwards he heads home and starts to experience flu-like symptoms and became uncharacteristically irritable for no apparent reason according to his wife Liza. His third day on the golf course he began to feel seriously ill with a rash spreading from his stomach which turned into blisters by the next day.  Doctors aren’t able to diagnose him and they can’t seem to understand why his internal organs are beginning to fail. After two weeks of being in the hospital, Lieutenant George Prior dies of a heart attack, but by that time his wife Liza says he was a “hideously disfigured shell of a man” and “death was a merciful escape.” Continue Reading

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

Authors:

Kyle Horn: Building Construction Technology

Augustin Loureiro: Geology

Daniel MacDonald: BDIC, Agricultural Research and Extensions

Eric Vermilya: Environmental Science

 

 

Introduction

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

Cooling Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Green Roofs

A city does what it has to in order to be sure its citizens can stay safe and protected in the midst of so many dangerous events like crime and murder. One dangerous outcome may come traditionally undetected and that is deaths related to heat waves. San Francisco did all that it could to protect against such a disastrous attack like setting up shelters with air condition, making swimming pools open and free to the public, and opening four air conditioned libraries. This was not enough. Over the Labor Day weekend heat wave of 2017, where temperatures reached triple digits, three elderly people, all in their late 70s to early 90s, died due to the heat wave (Swan, 2017). In San Mateo county in California, just outside of San Francisco, the coroner said three more elderly people died from shock because of the heat wave over the same Labor Day weekend. (Rocha, 2017). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees that heat waves are more likely to be more intense in cities due to the already high temperatures from the Urban Heat Island effect. (IPCC AR5, 2014, p.7-8). This exacerbates the conditions usually seen in heat waves, so not only do cities experience higher temperatures, but also more deaths related to these rising temperatures. Only three names were made public, but like the deaths of Patrick Henry, 90, Ernesto Demesa, 79, and Loraine Christiansen, 95, all of San Mateo county, more elderly are at risk during these heat waves compared to the rest of the population. (Rocha, 2017). Green roofs can help alleviate rising temperatures and urban heat island effect in cities.

Cities, on average, are affected more by heat waves than surrounding areas due to the urban heat island effect. The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect is the heating of urban areas, typically cities, due to the design and material choice of urban architecture and the high volume of emissions emitted from transportation, which it then trapped in the urban environment. (Monteiro et al., 2017). A city like Albuquerque, New Mexico has experienced temperature differences of up to 22°F between the city and the surrounding rural areas on an average summer’s day, Albuquerque is number two in the United States for the greatest difference in temperature between city and rural communities (Hot and Getting Hotter, 2014). Temperatures inside the city have reached up to 100°F five times in 2016 alone, and the hottest day on record in Albuquerque was 107°F on June 26, 1994 (US Department of Commerce, 2016 ). This increase in temperature causes fatal living conditions. (Monteiro et al., 2017).

Rising temperatures from UHI has also been known to cause heat exhaustion, heat cramps, non-fatal heat stroke, respiratory issues and even heat-related mortality (United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2017). These results are more likely to affect sensitive populations like young children and older adults, like those in San Mateo county. (EPA, 2017).

Cities have little to no vegetation. Vegetation promotes evapotranspiration which can help reduce temperatures by 2° F to 9°F (EPA, 2017). The effects presented by decreased reflectivity, increased heat retention, and lower evapotranspiration is like wearing a black wool sweater on a hot July day in the desert. If you wear a black wool sweater in the middle of the summer, your sweat is going to be trapped in the sweater, and prevent evaporation, unlike a moisture wicking white t-shirt which allows your sweat to evaporate off of you and carry away the heat. One way to think of this in effect is also the way that humid air feels warmer, because your sweat won’t evaporate, whereas dry heat feels cooler because of its ability to absorb moisture and allow evaporative cooling.

The white t-shirt will also be able to reflect more sunlight due to its lighter color compared to the black sweater. Green roofs are the white cotton t-shirt, a good solution to feeling hot while succumbing to the conditions of the black wool sweater as the urban heat island effect. In order to mitigate some of the UHI effects in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the New Mexican government must create incentive programs to help encourage the design and development of green roofs.

A large factor contributing to UHI is the reduced albedo caused by dark surfaces, used on roads and roofs, decreasing reflectivity and increasing heat retention. (Morini, Touchaei, Rossi, Cotana, & Akbari, 2017). Albedo is a measure for how well a surface reflects light without absorbing it in the form of heat (Morini et. al, 2017). Urban architecture plays a big role here. Since pavements and roofs typically constitute over 60% of urban surfaces, increasing reflectivity will drastically increase albedo and decrease UHI (Akbari, Menon & Rosenfeld, 2009). Decreased albedo, or decreased reflectivity, has been known to raise the temperatures of exposed urban surfaces, like rooftops and pavement, to temperatures 50°F to 90°F warmer than ambient air temperatures, whereas shaded surfaces, or rural surroundings, remain closer to air temperatures (EPA, 2017). Because rural areas do not have such an abundance of these dark materials, rural areas are 18°F to 27°F cooler during the day than nearby cities (EPA, 2017).

There is a cycle that begins when UHI occurs in a city. UHI causes an increase in air temperatures and leads to uncomfortable living conditions, that is then countered with an increase in air conditioning. Warmer environments lead to more air conditioning and energy use, therefore UHI will cause an increase in energy use through an increase in air conditioning. Research shows that there is a 1.5 – 2.0% increase in electricity demand for every 1°F increase (EPA, 2017)

An increase in energy demand due to UHI effects will require power plants to produce more energy which will emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and add to the already pressing issue of climate change. CO2 is the most prominent greenhouse gas and is primarily caused by the burning of fuel in order to produce energy (EPA, 2017). With multiple days reaching temperatures over 100°F in Albuquerque, UHI and its effects result in huge spikes of energy consumption. Greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and increase temperatures (The Greenhouse Effect, 2017). Because of the effects of UHI, power plants will need to produce more energy to meet the demand and emit additional CO2 into the atmosphere in the process. This increase in CO2 will contribute to climate change in the form of a greenhouse gas. All of these causes lead to the urban environment experiencing greater temperatures than before, which brings the cycle back to the issue of having to increase air conditioning usage, it is a perpetual cycle that is harming the environment by contributing to climate change and heating up the urban environment.

The IPCC states that climate change is real and is increasing temperatures at an unprecedented rate. They are “virtually certain” that there will be more hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over as temperatures continue to increase. This rise in temperatures has a direct effect on UHI and heat waves. The Fifth Report put out by the IPCC states that it is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer than previous years and that it is very likely the cause of human activities like burning fossil fuels. (IPCC AR5, 2014, p. 7-8).

Given that this cycle caused by human activity it only seems fit that there should be an initiative taken to break the cycle. The cycle begins with urban architecture increasing the temperatures of an urban environment and inside of buildings, and by using green roofs we can reduce the temperature of both the urban environment and inside of buildings. Green roofs reduce the effects of UHI through its high reflectivity and its ability of evapotranspiration.

A green roof’s reflectivity has drastic effects on the temperature of the outdoor air when compared to a traditional roof. During a normal sunny day, a green roof’s increased reflectivity can cause the temperature of the roof top surface to be cooler than the temperature of the air, as opposed to a traditional roof in which the surface temperatures can be upwards of 104°F warmer than the air (William et al., 2016). By increasing the solar reflectivity of a roof top, the outdoor air temperature will be lower, and will reduce the demand for air conditioning.

Another way that greater reflectivity reduces energy requirements of a building is by reducing the through roof heat gain (TRHG). TRHG flux is higher for roofs with a lower solar reflectivity, regardless of the region (Kibria, O’Brien, Alvey, & Woo, 2016). By increasing the reflectivity of a roof the indoor air temperatures will be lower too, by preventing heat from entering a building through the roof. Reflectivity has two benefits, both lowering the outdoor air temperature of the urban environment and the indoor air temperature of a building.

Green roofs will reduce energy demands by decreasing a building’s ability to absorb heat. Green roofs cause a cooling effect called evapotranspiration. This sensation is essentially to a building like sweating is to a human, the water on the green roof evaporates into the atmosphere and carries away its embodied heat. By having plants on a roof, the water they use and obtain will absorb heat that would have been absorbed into the building. The water then evaporates, reducing the amount of heat that could have potentially been absorbed into the rooftop and into the building. Less heat is absorbed by the rooftop and transferred to the building (William et al., 2016).

Although there are benefits to green roofs some are opposed to them due to the higher upfront cost and higher maintenance cost. The cost per square foot ranges from $10 to $25 and the annual maintenance of green roofs is $0.21 up to $1.50 per square foot (EPA, 2017). These figures are dependent on the types of plants, the media, and the extent of maintenance and irrigation.

This in turns forces a lot of pressure on the owners to absorb this cost of installation and also puts pressure to maintain them as well. In Southern California, if only half of the roofs are green, then $211 million will be saved in heating and cooling cost in the long run (Garrison, Horowitz 2012). In a University of Michigan study, a 21,000 square foot green roof would cost $464,000 to install versus $335,000 for a regular roof. The study also says that the green roof would save up to $200,000 in reduced energy costs (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008). With green roofs having multiple benefits and the upfront cost being minimal compared to the savings, it seems reasonable to have this cost be a part of buildings plan.

In order to mitigate the negative impacts of urban heat island in Albuquerque, the city must provide an incentive program for green roofs for new buildings. An incentive program would encourage developers by educating them on the benefits of green roofs and by covering a portion of installation cost. There are a number of places in the world that have recognized the many benefits of green roofs and adopted them into their urban development programs. Canada has been one of the leading countries in North America when it comes to green infrastructure legislation, especially in Toronto, Ontario where green roof programs have been implemented since 2006. (City of Toronto, 2017).

In 2006 Toronto, Ontario initiated the Green Roof Incentive Pilot Program to promote the design and development of green roofs on privately owned commercial/ industrial buildings. After one year the program was deemed “very successful” by the city and had awarded 16 applications with grants resulting in over 32,290 square feet of green roofs on new buildings (City of Toronto, 2017). After receiving feedback from the applicants about the pilot program it was determined that although it was successful, they could attract more applicants by increasing the incentive to $5 to square foot which was average for similar incentive programs in the country. (Gironimo, 2007). Within 5 years it was reported by the program coordinator that this program supported a total of 112 projects with a total of 2,507,991 square feet, reducing energy consumption by an estimated 565 MWh, avoiding 106 tons of greenhouse gases (Baynton, 2015, para. 3).

In order to be eligible for this grant the developer must have provided documentation of a design and maintenance plan for the green roof of a new building. This program did not offer grants for developers retrofitting green roofs due to the variables with the type of roofing materials and the amount of weight the building was designed to support. Minimum coverage requirements ranging from 20% for small roofs and up to 60% for larger roof tops were also put into effect. Although larger roofs require 60% of coverage there was a cap of $100,000 for the grant (City of Toronto, 2017). This program is in use today in Toronto and is now a key part of their Climate Change Action Plan and is complimented by the Green Roof Bylaw where the installation of eco-roofs is mandatory for new buildings.

Since this program has shown to be successful over a long period of time according to the city of Toronto, this same sort of incentivized program would be viable for Albuquerque. This program would also provide grants for eligible applicants at $5 per square foot for up to $100,000 for new industrial and commercial buildings and have the same eligibility requirements. With a $5 per square foot incentive, this would cover 20%-50% of installation cost on an average greenhouse relieving pressure from the developers. In order for this plan to work, builders must be educated on the number of benefits for this system by providing resources like pamphlets, websites, and seminars in order to communicate the value of these systems and how the long term benefits outweigh the initial costs.

In order to break the UHI cycle and the rapid increase in temperatures in Albuquerque there must be an incentive program run by the city or state government. Government officials need to address this issue since it impacts the health and well-being of its inhabitants. The impacts on health have led to death and other health complications and with temperature continuing to rise, it seems reasonable to assume the amount of deaths, complications, and general discomfort will rise too. In order for people to alleviate themselves from high temperatures, they must turn to cooling technology. Rising temperatures means that buildings must increase the amount of fossil fuels used to cool buildings which increases not only the cost of cooling, but the amount of greenhouse gases, in this case CO2, in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases then go on to contribute to rising temperatures in cities which then continues the cycle.

Green roofs can help to break this cycle by helping to reduce the amount of heat trapped in these urban areas by increasing evapotranspiration and reflectivity. By increasing these two properties, less heat is retained in the buildings which then decreases the amount of fossil fuels used to cool buildings and reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the air.  By implementing an incentive policy that educates and encourages developers to install green roofs, the impacts of UHI will decrease. Unless the New Mexico government steps in, like Toronto, and provide incentives to green roof installation the cycle could continue on indefinitely affecting more families like those in San Francisco.

AUTHORS

Evan Brillhart – Natural Resource Conservation

Jacqueline Dias – Environmental Science

Michael Pfau – Building and Construction Technologies

Amanda Tessier – Horticultural Science

REFERENCES

Akbari, Menon, and A. Rosenfeld, 2009: Global cooling: Increasing world-wide urban albedos to offset CO2. Climatic Change, 94 (3–4), 275–286, doi:10.1007/s10584-008-9515-9.

Baynton, A. (2015, January 16) Toronto’s Eco-Roof Incentive Program. C40 Cities. Retrieved from: http://www.c40.org/case_studies/toronto-s-eco-roof-incentive-program

City of Toronto. (2017). Eco roof incentive program. Retrieved from: https://web.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/environmental-grants-incentives-2/green-your-roof/

Garrison, N., & Horowitz, C. (2012). Looking Up: How Green Roofs and Cool Roofs Can Reduce Energy Use, Address Climate Change, and Protect Water Resources in Southern California. NRDC Report. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/GreenRoofsReport.pdf.

Gironimo, L.D. (2007). Green roof incentive pilot program(AFS# 3677). Retrieved from City of Toronto: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2007/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-3302.pdf

Huber, D. G., & Gulledge, J. (2011). Extreme Weather and Climate Change: Understanding the Link and Managing the Risk. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.c2es.org/site/assets/uploads/2011/12/white-paper-extreme-weather-climate-change-understanding-link-managing-risk.pdf.

Hot and Getting Hotter: Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities. (2014, August 20). Retrieved from http://www.climatecentral.org/news/urban-heat-islands-threaten-us-health-17919

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.

Kibria K. Roman, Timothy O’Brien, Jedediah B. Alvey, OhJin Woo, Simulating the effects of cool roof and PCM (phase change materials) based roof to mitigate UHI (urban heat island) in prominent US cities, In Energy, Volume 96, 2016, Pages 103-117, ISSN 0360-5442, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2015.11.082. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054421501703X)

Monteiro, M., Blanua, T., Verhoef, A., Richardson, M., Hadley, P., & Cameron, R. W. F. (2017). Functional green roofs: Importance of plant choice in maximising summertime environmental cooling and substrate insulation potential.Energy & Buildings, 141, 56-68. doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2017.02.011

Morini, E., Touchaei, A. G., Rossi, F., Cotana, F., & Akbari, H. (2017). Evaluation of albedo enhancement to mitigate impacts of urban heat island in rome (italy) using WRF meteorological model doi://doi.org/10.1016/j.uclim.2017.08.001

Rocha, V. (2017, September 8). Six deaths linked to Bay Area heat wave – LA Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-six-deaths-heat-wave-bay-area-20170908-story.html

Swan, R. (2017, September 07). 3 deaths in SF likely caused by weekend heat wave. Retrieved from http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/3-deaths-in-SF-likely-caused-by-weekend-heat-wave-12178945.php?utm_campaign=sfgate&utm_source=article&utm_medium=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sfgate.com%2Fbayarea%2Farticle%2FDeath-toll-from-Bay-Area-heat-wave-hits-6-12180514.php#photo-14063884

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Climate change results in more intense hurricanes

 

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).

AUTHORS

Amir Entekhabi – Environmental Science

Rachel Finn – Natural Resource Conservation

Keren Radbil – Agricultural and Environmental education

 

REFERENCES

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Congressional Budget Office. (2017). Effects of Climate Change and Coastal. Retrieved from: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53244

Development on U.S. Hurricane Damage: Implications for the Federal Budget. Retrieved from: https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/presentation/53244-presentation.pdf.

Crowell, M., Coulton, K., Johnson, C., Westcott, J., Bellomo, D., Edelman, S., & Hirsch, E. (2010). An estimate of the US population living in 100-year coastal flood hazard areas. Journal of Coastal Research, 201-211. DOI 10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-09-00076.1

Effects of Climate Change and Coastal Development on U.S. Hurricane Damage: Implications for the Federal Budget. (2017, November 02). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53244

GFDL. (2017). Global Warming and Hurricanes. Retrieved from: https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/.

Friedman, N., & Scism, L. (2017, October 23). What Could Raise Hurricane Irma’s Costs? Letting Contractors Handle Claims. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-could-raise-hurricane-irmas-costs-letting-contractors-handle-claims-1508756401

Flavelle, C. (2017). Hurricanes Highlight Failure to Enforce Flood Insurance Rules. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-13/hurricanes-highlight-failure-to-enforce-flood-insurance-rules.

Fessler, P. (2017, September 01). At Least 100,000 Homes Were Affected By Harvey. Moving Back In Won’t Be Easy. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.npr.org/2017/09/01/547598676/at-least-100-000-homes-were-affected-by-harvey-moving-back-in-wont-be-easy

Holter, L. (2017, August 31). I Lost My Home In Hurricane Harvey. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.refinery29.com/2017/08/170287/lost-my-home-hurricane-harvey-flood

Hurricane Sandy Fast Facts. (2017, October 19). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/world/americas/hurricane-sandy-fast-facts/index.html

Insurance Information Institute. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.iii.org/publications/insurance-handbook/insurance-and-disasters/background-on-flood-insurance

Kristian, B. (2017). The Week. Retrieved from: http://theweek.com/articles/721185/perverse-incentives-national-flood-insurance-program

Kaye, K. (2008, July 12). Inland flooding causes most hurricane deaths. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-cane-inlandfloods-story.html

Leatherman, S. P. (2017). Coastal Erosion and the United States National Flood Insurance Program. Ocean & Coastal Management. Chicago. DOI 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2017.04.004.

Lee, V., & Wessel D. (2017). “The Hutchins Center Explains: National Flood Insurance Program.” The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2017/10/10/the-hutchins-center-explains-national-flood-insurance-program/.

Michaels, G. (2016). The Conversation. Retrieved from: http://theconversation.com/why-are-so-many-people-still-living-in-flood-prone-cities-55281

Marker, S. (2012). What Is The Write-Your-Own Insurance Policy Program? Merlin Law Group. Retrieved from: https://www.propertyinsurancecoveragelaw.com/2012/07/articles/insurance/what-is-the-writeyourown-insurance-policy-program/

Nosowitz, D. (2012, October 29). The Dictionary Of Hurricane Sandy: Landfall. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-10/dictionary-hurricane-sandy-landfall

Revkin, A. (2017). Rethinking the ‘Infrastructure’ Discussion Amid a Blitz of Hurricanes. ProPublica. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/rethinking-the-infrastructure-discussion-amid-a-blitz-of-hurricanes.

“Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.” National Hurricane Center, NOAA, www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php.

Schlossberg, T. (2015). New York Today: In Hurricane Sandy’s Wake. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/nyregion/new-york-today-in-hurricane-sandys-wake.html.

Shively, D. “Flood risk management in the USA: implications of National Flood Insurance Program changes for social justice.” Regional Environmental Change 17.6 (2017): 1663-1672. DOI 10.1007/s10113-017-1127-3.

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2016, September 04). What is storm surge? Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/stormsurge-stormtide.html

Wile, R. (2017). http://time.com/money/4935684/hurricane-irma-harvey-economic-cost/

Kunreuther, H., & Michel-Kerjan, E. (2017, November). Implementing the National Flood Insurance Reform Act in a New Era of Catastrophes. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/issue-brief/v1n9.php

Green roofs: an analysis on air pollution removal and policy implementation

 

In October 1948, a thick cloud of air pollution formed above the industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania. It lingered for five days, killed 20 people and induced sickness in 43% of the town (Environmental Protection Agency, 2007). Pollution poses a serious threat to our environment and health. Nearly one-quarter of the people in the U.S. live in areas with unhealthy short-term levels of particle pollution, and roughly one in ten people live where there are unhealthful levels year-round (American Lung Association, 2010). Air pollution is of particular concern to public health as it is the cause of hazards including upper respiratory irritation, chronic respiratory irritation, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis (Kampa & Castanas, 2008). The most common health-related impacts from air pollution are increased occurrences of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and a greater incidence of cardiovascular disease (Pope, Bates & Raizenne, 1995). Urban environments struggle heavily with air pollution due to the large amount of factories and vehicles that are major sources of air pollutants that accumulate so much that they become a hazard to human health. In Canada, the Ontario Medical Association found air pollution to result in 9,500 premature deaths per year (OMA, 2008) and estimates increased costs of healthcare up to $506.64 million and lost productivity of up to $374.18 as a result of air pollution (OMA, 2005). Conditions will only worsen as pollution grows with population, traffic, industrialization and energy use (Mayer, 1999). There are many pollutants in the air of an urban environment, though particulate matter (PM10), ozone (O₃), sulfur dioxide (SO₂), and nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) are among the most serious to human health (World Health Organization, 2016).

Particulate matter that appears in urban environments is made up of sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water that exist in the air from human activities such as combustion of fossil fuels, vehicles, and factory emissions. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), the limit for PM10 is 50 μg/m3 annual mean. This represents how much particulate matter is allowed in the air annually by law. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer (WHO, 2017).  In countries of Europe that have concentrations of PM above guideline levels, it is estimated that average life expectancy is 8.6 months lower than it would be if PM exposure from human sources was regulated (WHO, 2017).

NO2 is most commonly formed from anthropogenic burning of fuel (heating, power generation, and engines in vehicles/ships). The limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 μg/m3 annual mean. Epidemiological studies have shown that symptoms of bronchitis in asthmatic children increased in association with long-term exposure to NO2 and at short-term concentrations above 200 μg/m3, NO2 is a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways (WHO, 2017). Reduced lung function growth is also linked to NO2 at higher concentrations currently measured in Europe and the US. The US EPA (1998) also focuses on the danger of NO2 by stating that Nitrogen oxides (NOx) resulting from combustion of fossil fuels can form ground level ozone that causes respiratory problems, premature deaths, and reductions in crop yields. (EPA, 1998).

Ozone at ground level, not to be confused with the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, is formed from vehicle and factory emissions and emissions from solvents and industry. The legal amount that is allowed in cities is 100 μg/m3 8-hour mean, which means that by law over 8 hours concentrations of ozone cannot exceed 100 μg per cubic meter of air. In some cases, chemicals like nitrogen oxides (NOx) react with sunlight and also contribute to forms of ozone. The limit for ozone is 100 μg/m3 8-hour mean and once this threshold is passed, O3 can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases (WHO, 2017). The American Lung Association (2007) reported that annually, over 3,700 premature deaths in the United States (premature death is a death that occurs before a person reaches their expected age) can occur as a result of a 10 parts per billion (ppb) increase in O3 levels (ALA, 2007). Bell (2004) found that increased mortality rates in 95 urban areas within the US are linked to elevated levels in ozone, with one of these urban areas being Chicago, where ALA (2007) found over 2 million people at increased risk for health problems resulting from short-term exposure to O3 and particulate matters (ALA, 2007; Bell, 2004).

SO2 is a colourless gas with a sharp odour that is produced from the burning of sulfur-containing fossil fuels (coal/oil) for heating residences, generating power, and motor vehicles along with the smelting (extraction by melting) of mineral ores that contain sulfur. The limit for sulfur dioxide is 20 μg/m3 24-hour mean and this means that air in cities will contain on average 20 μg per cubic meter over the span of 24 hours. When the limit is exceeded, SO2 can affect the respiratory system, lung functioning, and cause irritated eyes. Evidence shows that the effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in (S02, 2005). Inflammation of the respiratory tract causes coughing, mucus secretion, aggravation of asthma and chronic bronchitis and makes people more prone to infections of the respiratory tract (WHO, 2017).

One policy the U.S. government has in place to control pollution levels is the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970 (majorly revised in 1977 and 1990). The CAA’s purpose is to reduce air pollution and its harmful effects by setting limits on pollution. This Act requires states to meet specific air quality standards regarding six common pollutants: particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead (EPA, 2017b). The Act contains specific provisions to address hazardous or toxic air pollutants, acid rain, chemical emissions that deplete the ozone layer, and regional haze (EPA, 2017b). The six “criteria” air pollutants are regulated based primarily on human health and secondarily on environmental criteria.

The CAA improved the environment which in turn improved the economy and human health. In the 45 years following the installation of the CAA, national emissions of the six common pollutants dropped an average of 70% while gross domestic product grew by 246% (EPA, 2017c). Forty-one areas that previously had unhealthy carbon monoxide levels in 1991 now meet the health-based national air quality standard. In 1990 alone, pollution reductions under the Act prevented 205,000 early deaths, 10.4 million lost I.Q. points in children due to lead exposure, and a multitude of other health effects (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017d). Despite massive improvements in air quality since CAA took effect, millions of Americans still live in areas with pollution levels exceeding the limits (EPA, 2007). Those who struggle to meet CAA air quality standards may find green roofs a useful tool to bring pollutant levels down.

In response to rising air pollutants, people are considering transforming city rooftops into green roofs to mitigate the problem. A green roof is a layer of vegetation installed on top of a roof, either flat or slightly sloped (National Park Service, 2017). The high amount of rooftop space in urban cities creates an opportunity for green roofs to be implemented on a large scale. Roofs represent 21–26% of urban areas and 40–50% of their impermeable areas (Wong, 2005; Dunnett & Kingsbury, 2004). These spaces typically have much unused surface area that could be repurposed to combat the aforementioned effects of harmful air pollutants, a green roof’s main purpose. The plants that compose the roof are able to take up compounds through their natural processes respiration and photosynthesis, which remove the pollutants from the air and improve its quality.WHO has guidelines for the limits of the primary air pollutants that must not be exceeded in urban environments. Green roofs will help keep the levels of PM10 at 50 μg/m3 annual mean, nitrogen dioxide at 40 μg/m3 annual mean, ozone at 100 μg/m3 8-hour mean, and the concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air of urban environments at 20 μg/m3 24-hour mean.

Literature surrounding green roofs agrees on their impact of particulate matter removal (Speak, Rothwell, Lindley & Smith, 2012; Currie & Bass, 2008; Rowe, 2011; City of Los Angeles, 2005; Yang, Yu & Gong, 2008; Jayasooriya, Ng, Muthukumaran & Perera, 2017). The range of particulate that is annually reduced by a green roof is 0.42–3.21 g/m2 over 500,000 square meters of rooftops (Speak et al, 2012). Rowe (2011) performed a study where 2000 m2 of uncut grass were planted on a green roof. It was estimated that the green roof could remove up to 4000 kg of particulate matter. In a simulation where green roofs were built over 198,000 square meters of roofs in Chicago, 234.5 kg of particulate matter would be removed by green roofs in one year (Yang et al., 2008).  Yang et. al (2008) also did a study where the concentrations of acidic gaseous pollutants and particulate matters on a 4000 m2 roof in Singapore are measured before and after the installation of a green roof. Research found that the levels of particulate matter was reduced by 6% in the air above the roof after installation of the green roof (Yang et al., 2008). Jayasooriya et al. (2017) state that green roofs annually remove 1.53 g/m2 PM10  (Jayasooriya et al., 2017).Currie and Bass (2008) state that green roofs have the potential to reduce annual amounts of PM10 by .89–9.21 g/m2 (grams per square meter) over 486,000-2,430,000 square meters of green roof coverage in Toronto (Currie & Bass, 2008). Jayasooriya et al. (2017) states that green roofs annually remove 1.53 g/m2 PM10 (Jayasooriya et al., 2017). Another study on green roof remediation in Los Angeles (LA) puts these numbers of removed particulate matter into context. The city of LA found one square meter of green roof able to remove approximately 0.1 kg of particulate matter per year and if a gasoline powered vehicle were to release .01 grams of pm per mile of travel and drive 10,000 miles per year, then the vehicle would emit 100 grams per year (.01 kg/year) and therefore, one square foot of green roof would reduce the pollution of this theoretical car for the whole year (City of Los Angeles, 2005). According to the literature, the annual range of particulate matter reduced by green roofs fall between .42 g/m2 and 9.21 g/m2 (Speak et al., 2012; Currie & Bass, 2008; Rowe, 2011; City of Los Angeles, 2005; Yang et al., 2008; Jayasooriya et al., 2017).

Currie and Bass (2008) state that green roofs have the potential to reduce annual amounts of NO2 by 0.6–2.55 g/m2. Yang et. al (2008) found that if green roofs were built over 198,000 square meters of roofs in Chicago, 452.25 kg of nitrogen dioxide would be removed by green roofs in one year. Rosenfeld, Akbari, Romm, and Pomerantz (2008) calculated that emissions from coal fired power plants to the air could be reduced by 350 tons of NOx per day in Los Angeles by implementing green roofs. This value of energy saved from the installation of green roofs relates to a 10% reduction in the causes of smog to the city of Los Angeles, with an active NOx trade program, and results in a savings of one million dollars per day (Akbari, Pomerantz & Taha, 2001; Rosenfeld et al.,1998;  Clark, Talbot, Bulkley & Adriaens, 2005) estimate that if 20% of all industrial and commercial roof surfaces in Detroit, MI, were traditional extensive sedum green roofs, over 800,000 kg per year of NO2 , 0.5% of that area’s emissions, can be removed. Yang et. al (2008) states that green roofs annually remove 2.33–3.57 g/m2, NO2 in an urban environment. Jayasooriya et al. (2017) states that green roofs annually remove .37 g/m2 NO2. In a study done in Singapore, 21% of nitrous acid, a byproduct of nitrogen dioxide, was reduced directly above a green roof (Rowe, 2011). One study implementing green roofs in Kansas City, MO, used by the EPA, estimated that by 2020, green roofs would reduce 1800 pounds (816 kg) of NOx (EPA, 2016). After reviewing the literature, it is found that a green roof can reduce a range of 0.37-3.57 g/m2 (Currie & Bass, 2008; Yang et. al., 2008; Jayasooriya et al., 2017; Rosenfeld et al., 2008) Clark, Adriaens, and Talbot (2008) reported that green roofs yield an annual benefit of $0.45–$1.70 per m2 ($0.04–$0.16 per square foot) in terms of nitrogen oxide uptake. Clark et al. (2005) estimates that NOx reduction from a 2000 ft2 green roof would provide an annual benefit of $895–$3392, resulting in the green roof being 24.5-40.2% cheaper than a conventional roof without vegetation.

Currie and Bass (2008) state that green roofs have the potential to reduce annual amounts of O3 by 1.2–3.58 g/m2. Yang et al. (2008) state green roofs have the potential to annually reduce 4.49–7.17 g/m2 O3 and in their simulation of Chicago, green roofs were built over 198,000 square meters of roofs, the results were measured over the course of just one year, with 871 kg of O3 removed by green roofs. Jayasooriya et al. (2017) state that green roofs annually remove 1.24 g/m2 O3 . Since ozone is formed by the reaction of sunlight with pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), green house reduction in nitrogen oxides also reduce concentrations of ozone in the urban environment. According to the literature, the annual range of ozone reduced by green roofs fall between 1.2 g/m2 and and 7.17 g/m2 (Currie & Bass, 2008; Yang et. al., 2008; Jayasooriya et al., 2017).

Yang et. al (2008) found that if green roofs were built over 198,000 square meters of roofs in Chicago, 117.25 kg of sulfur dioxide would be removed by green roofs in one year. Currie and Bass (2008) state that green roofs have the potential to reduce annual amounts of SO2 by 0.2–0.84 g/m2. Yang et al. (2008) state that green roofs annually remove 0.65–1.01 g/m2 SO2. Jayasooriya et al. (2017) state that green roofs annually remove 0.1 g/m2 SO2. In a study done in Singapore, 37% of sulfur dioxide was reduced directly above a green roof (Rowe, 2011). One study implementing green roofs in Kansas City, MO, used by the EPA, estimated that by 2020, green roofs would reduce 2600 pounds (1179.34 kg ) of SO2 (EPA, 2016). In one field study, the concentrations of acidic gaseous pollutants and particulate matters on a 4000 m2 roof in Singapore are measured before and after the installation of a green roof. Research found that the levels of SO2 were reduced by 37% in the air above the roof after installation of the green roof (Yang et al., 2008). After reviewing the literature, it is found that a green roof can reduce a range of 0.10-1.01 g/m2 (Currie & Bass, 2008; Yang et al., 2008; Jayasooriya et al., 2017; Rowe, 2011, EPA, 2016)

As an example of the costs of building a green roof in a U.S. city, the installation costs to install green roofs on every roof in Chicago were estimated to be $35.2 billion (Yang et al., 2008). This brings up a high cost of green roofs that deters many cities from considering installation. The EPA projected in 2009 that extensive green roof installation costs, which were ranging from $15-$20/sq. foot should drop to $8-$15/sq. foot as installations increased, and soil substrate and plants became more available (EPA, 2009). Not everyone considers green roofs for their own homes, however, with the amount of pollution removed and human health improvements and the inherent existent pollution in cities, green roofs are critical to pollution removal in urban environments and should therefore be installed. In fact, having a green roof reduces more pollution in an urban environment than simply not having one at all. Agra, Klein, Vasl, Kadas, and Blaustein (2017) compared green roofs to other roofs of buildings with no vegetation at all (control roofs) and found that the control roofs had a CO2 concentration 50 cm above the ground of almost 375 ppm while the three types of green roofs in the study ranged from maintaining concentrations of 365-370 ppm of CO2 50 centimeters above surface (Figure 1). With green roofs being confirmed to be more effective With costs of green roofs accounted for and their associated improvement of human health via reduction in air pollution, green roofs can become even more desirable with the inclusion of governmental incentives/policies for cost reduction.

Seeing cost as one of the main obstacles standing in the way of green roofs, we urge government action to alleviate this issue. The U.S. government must make green roof installation less expensive through an incentive system. Funding should be granted to all major U.S. cities for the installation of green roofs. Depending on design, plant type, and climate conditions the price of green roof construction typically ranges from $15-20 per square foot, though the EPA projects that extensive green roof installation costs should drop to $8-$15/sq. foot as installations increase, and soil substrate and plants became more available (EPA, 2009). The U.S. Government should offer $10 per square foot of green roof for commercial, residential, and private properties. In target areas where pollution is most concentrated, the government should offer $15 per square foot. This proposal makes the initial up-front cost of green roofs more feasible, if not directly profitable.

Green roofs become more attainable and widespread with the help of government incentives, as shown by successful policies in Washington D.C. Currently, Washington D.C. has over 3 million square feet of green roof (Department of Energy & Environment, 2017a). The district set a goal that by 2020, 20% of its buildings will have green roofs. In 2006, the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) launched the “RiverSmart Rooftops Green Roof Rebate Program” to give grants that encourage the installation of green roofs on private property. The grants offer $10 per square foot and up to $15 per square foot if the building is in target watersheds. With no cap on project size, all properties are eligible including residential buildings. To encourage small buildings to install green roofs as well, the program gives funds to offset costs of structural assessments to buildings of under 2,500 square feet (DOEE, 2017a). This incentive plays a large role in the growth in green roof installation per year in D.C. In 2005, building owners installed 0 square feet of green roof as compared to 104,068 sq feet of green roof installed in 2006, the first year of this initiative (DOEE, 2017b). In 2015, D.C. implemented a whopping 712,493 square feet of green roof. Though there is some variation, there is a general increase in total green roof area in Washington D.C. (DOEE, 2017c). An incentive program similar to this on the federal level would increase the total area of green roofs on a broader scale.

Installing green roofs in urban environments is cost-effective. They reduce the amount of pollution in air, improve the health of people living in urban cities, and can be less expensive to install with the implementation of governmental incentives & policies. If all rooftops in Chicago were covered with intensive green roofs, a projected 2046.89 metric tons of pollutants would be removed (Yang et al., 2008).

When discussing the green roofs ability to improve human health, the concentrations of pollutants most commonly discussed in the literature are O3, SO2, particulate matter, and NOx   (Agra, 2017; Clark et al., 2005, 2008; Rowe, 2011; City of Los Angeles, 2006; Rosenfeld, 1998; EPA, 1998) By installing green roofs, the four main pollutants would decrease in concentration enough to create improvements in human health and economic benefits in the reduction of human mortality.  Worker productivity and health is improved along the way, as employees that have a view of nature scenery were less stressed, had lower blood pressure, reported fewer illnesses, and experienced greater job satisfaction (Kaplan et al., 1988; Ulrich, 1984).

The cost-benefit analyses discussed how implementing green roofs would result in savings of a million dollars a day from decreased air conditioning, an overall annual benefit of $895–3392 for each 2000 ft2 green roof, and a reduction in the particulate emissions of one car for a whole year per square meter of green roof. Green roof financial incentives in Washington D.C. greatly increased the total area of green roofs in the area (DOEE, 2017b). An incentive program paired with indirect incentives would be successful if emulated on a federal level. The U.S. has proven that federal environmental policies can be effective as show by the Clean Air Act (EPA, 2015).

Even though green roofs cost 2-3 times as much as a bare roof to install, government incentives can alleviate these costs to bring installation prices down. With the upfront costs lowered, we can reap the benefits of financial, health, and environmental pay-off by green roofs.

AUTHORS

Matas Rudzinskas – Environmental Science

Aaron Lutz – Turf Grass Science

Tara McElhinney- Natural Resource Conservation

 

REFERENCES

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Akbari, H., Pomerantz, M., & Taha, H. (2001). Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas. Solar Energy, 70(3), 295-310. doi:10.1016/s0038-092x(00)00089-x

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Clark, C., Adriaens, P., & Talbot, F. B. (2008). Green Roof Valuation: A Probabilistic Economic Analysis of Environmental Benefits. Environmental Science & Technology, 42(6), 2155-2161. doi:10.1021/es0706652

Clark, C., Talbot, F.B., Bulkley, J., & Adriaens, P.. (2005). Optimization of green roofs for air pollution mitigation Proc. of 3rd North American Green Roof Conference: Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities, Washington, DC. 4–6 May 2005, The Cardinal Group, Toronto (2005)

Currie, B. A., & Bass, B. (2008). Estimates of air pollution mitigation with green plants and green roofs using the UFORE model. Urban Ecosystems, 11(4), 409-422. doi:10.1007/s11252-008-0054-y

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Department of Energy and Environment. (2017d). RiverSmart rewards and clean rivers IAC incentive programs. Retrieved from https://doee.dc.gov/greenroofs

Department of Energy and Environment. (2017e). Stormwater retention credit trading program. Retrieved from https://doee.dc.gov/src

Dunnett, N., & Kingsbury, N. (2010). Planting green roofs and living walls. Portland: Timber Press.

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Green the Heat

 

Image result for green roofs

Green roof in city (Klinkenborg, 2009).

 

Tall buildings consisting of dark roofs and roads with black asphalt remove much of the vegetation that used to thrive there. It is now evident that these changes in the landscape caused severe environmental challenges. Urban areas became vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the rapid expansion of the population only worsened the cause because of the demand for new accommodation made it normal to ignore existing problems. According to the U.S Census Bureau, 62.7 percent of the U.S. population now live in urban areas (“U.S. Cities are Home to 62.7% of the U.S. Population but Comprise 3.5% of Land Area”, 2015). Many of the environmental challenges in urban areas can be seen in forms of temperatures rising, worsening the urban heat island effect, and pollution from the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. All causing major health threats to citizens living in these areas and more sadly affecting children and the elderly who in many cases were diagnosed with heat related illnesses. Continue Reading

Green Roofs Effects on Urban Environments

 

 

Green roof, in France

Isabelle Kendall, Hasan Sabri & Bailey Michell

People over 65 make up a significant portion of the United States population, and the number increases every year. By 2040, the amount of people 65 and older in our population will go from 41 million to around 80 million (Kenney, Craighead, & Alexander, 2014, p. 6). This demographic is at great risk for heat related illnesses and death due to the increasing heat indices of our planet (Conti et al., 2005). A heat index is what the combination of temperature and humidity feel like to human beings, and as temperatures rise so do indices (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], 2016). Although the elderly are the most afflicted by heat induced mortality, it can happen to anyone: young or old, rich or poor. Heat waves in Chicago, Tokyo and many other cities have caused fatalities among a variety of individuals. For instance, in the summer of 2003, over 70,000 Europeans passed away during a single heat wave (Knox, 2007). Heat waves are becoming more frequent and more devastating. During a heat wave in Chicago there were nearly 700 more heat related deaths recorded than during a heat wave one year before (Whitman et al., 1997). The increased temperatures that lead to heat related fatalities and other heat related injuries are caused by the expansion of cities across the globe, and more specifically, the materials used to construct these expansions. Materials used include gravel, cement, and asphalt. These impermeable substances that make up urban surfaces like sidewalks, roads, and traditional buildings’ roofs absorb and retain solar radiation during the day then release heat gradually at night increasing surrounding air temperatures into the next day (Knox, 2007). This temperature phenomenon is called the urban heat island (UHI) effect because it causes temperatures in urban areas to be much higher than those in the rural areas around them (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2016). During summer months, the surface of a conventional roof can be as much as 50 º C (90 º F) hotter than ambient air temperatures (Liu & Baskaran, 2003). An article from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) states that in the 1800s, only three percent of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2008, half of the global population lived in cities, and by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will be urbanized (Population Reference Bureau, n.d.). Since the population is continuously growing, it is plain to see that any problems facing cities now will affect a staggeringly larger proportion of people over time. Thus, finding solutions to those problems like heat waves, which occur most frequently in cities, will be an integral part of future city living. Continue Reading

The Importance of Being Green: Green Roofs Help Urban Inhabitants Breathe Easier

 

Green roofs have become a popular amenity in cities as city dwellers seek environmentally friendly places to work, live and breathe.

 

Rachel Eckenreiter, Animal Science

Justin Esiason, Environmental Science

Patrick Meehan, Building Construction Technology

 

     As the sun rises in Beijing, the workforce can be seen flowing into the arteries of the city to start the day. The streets steadily fill with people, some whizzing by on bicycles, others on foot as the sun fights through toxic haze and dust. A father and daughter navigate through the dense crowd, completely unfamiliar with the language spoken around them and written on street signs, the young girl quickly glances around her, confused and overwhelmed. Faces of many sizes, ages and shapes glide by, most clad in white medical masks. Her eye catches something they’ve seen before: the welcoming sign of their hotel.  The bright and quiet lobby is cool and clean as they head toward the elevator. Once in the room, she wastes no time and heads straight for the bathroom sink, with the sensation that her face is covered in grime as if she had worked in a dry dirt field all day. After washing her face, she glances down to find that the pristine white hand towel had turned mostly dark grey and brown. Although their stay in China was only three weeks long, it was enough time to recognize that the city of Beijing had a major air pollution problem. (Rachel Eckenreiter, Personal Communication, April 6, 2017). Continue Reading

Building Green Cities: Mitigating the Urban Heat Island Effect with Green Roofs

Authors: Jill Banach (Environmental Science), Michael Mason (Building Construction Technology), Mitchell Good (Urban Forestry, Natural Resource Conservation), Sydney McGrath (Horticulture)

A short film, Brooklyn Farmer documents a group of urban farmers growing food on the rooftops of New York City. The head farmer, Ben Flanner, kneels in the dirt cutting fresh salad greens to send to restaurants later that day. As he glances up, the earthy green plants and brown soil contrasts starkly with the concrete skyscrapers on the horizon. He acknowledges that “the city itself has made it possible to do this by being so overbuilt and having all these impermeable surfaces that need sponges on them” (Cherrie & Tyburski, 2013, 6:24). Ben and his team set out to build the world’s largest rooftop farm. With success, two rooftops in the city are now abundant with tomatoes, herbs, root vegetables, and even beehives. Qwen Schantz, another essential person of the operation, describes the potential for future innovation: “When I look out at New York City rooftops and I see thousands of acres of empty space, I truly am moved to cover them with vegetation. And I think that this is something that has to happen. And I think it’s something that will happen” (Cherrie & Tyburski, 2013, 24:47). As the sun sets behind the New York skyline, Ben knows that this farm is making a difference in people’s lives. He is bringing the people of Brooklyn closer to their food, increasing vegetation in a way that is “flashy and weird and interesting” (Cherrie & Tyburski, 2013, 6:57), and contributing to the greater movement of green roofs to reduce the impacts of urbanization. Continue Reading