Weather for Ducks

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It was weather for ducks this weekend in Norfolk. On Friday we had a deluge with four inches of rain in some areas that caused flooded roads which stranded vehicles. Those of us that were already in their morning commute splashed through large puddles as the streets could only drain in a limited way during high tide  (okay for me it was only 10 minutes of splashing, but a slow 10 minutes).  The deluge also occurred just as downtown was setting up  Florentijn Hofman’s 40 foot rubber duck in one of the places with the most severe chronic flooding, the inlet called the Hague. The event is in celebration of the reopening of the Chrysler Museum, also part of the flood-prone area, which has recently undergone a $24million renovation project. With puddles all around, a soggy arts festival went on on Saturday. Volunteer used a reported 160 bags of mulch (we also saw a lot of straw) to dry out the park. When I was walking around the festival early on Saturday, vendors commented that the park is often wet and we saw some big puddles on the street.

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The weather over the weekend was beautiful and the crowds for the duck and the arts festival were big. Still, I wonder whether they might choose to move the arts festival to a slightly less soggy location in the future. How many years of wet weather does it take to decide that it is time to move? And how do groups make decisions to move or not to move? Clearly the Chrysler museum has decided to stay and invest in their location. Their neighbors, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, is starting the process of finding a place to move.  Are people going to buy into a place that is now flooding and likely to get worse unless some action is taken?  We love these coastal places, and love to be near the water, but conventional life as we know it cannot take place when inundated. How do we balance these values?

On Sunday, walking along in a much drier part of town, we saw two Mallard ducks waddling around on a street corner- fairly far from the water. I said they were dumb, but now I wonder if they know something I don’t.


New risk assessment for New York City

Since hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, New York and environs in 2012, there has been an increased focus on the threat of sea-level rise and storms to coastal mega-cities. A new article in Science by a team from the Netherlands, MIT, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania reviews adaptation strategies developed for the Big Apple and how they might be paid for.  First, the group modeled flood damage and found an estimate for expected flood loss at $174 million  per year, then they did a cost-benefit analysis of each of the strategies. Which strategies are most cost effective depends on how much sea level might rise. Clearly, waiting to see which scenario of sea level rise comes to fruition by 2040 is not an option. In fact, news today indicates the Antarctic ice shelves are being held in place by “small plugs” of ice.  What this means to the rate of sea level rise is not immediately clear, but it may indicate that there are tipping points that could cause a more rapid rise than we have seen in human history.

The conclusion that millions of new dollars need to be found to pay for making New York more resilient is not a palatable one, however, the researchers do propose a few policies that might be used to reserve or raise funds for increasing resilience. What can Hampton Roads learn from the experience in NYC? Many of the ideas develop for NYC could be applied to Virginia, but we are also unique. The VIMS recurrent flooding study identified the vulnerability of communities in the Tidewater area and provided an overview of adaptation strategies. It would be great to see the next step- the economic analysis and strategic designs.

Welcome to Virginia Coastal Adaptation

Coastal Virginia needs to adapt to changing conditions in climate and water levels.

In 2013, mayors of coastal Virginia cities met in Williamsburg to plead for state assistance to combat the impacts of change that they are already experiencing and expect to worsen as reported in the VIMS Recurrent Flooding Study.  Hampton Roads is among the most threatened coastal communities in the United States because of the high rate of relative sea-level rise and the significant economic resources at risk.

Fortunately, many of the coastal Virginia municipalities have recognized the risk and are working to adapt. This blog includes information and reflection about coastal adaptation in Virginia and around the world. Looking ahead to the future is critical.

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him”.

Art and Adaptation

I have been fascinated at the nexus of art and environmental science for a long time. I grew up in a family where art was revered, so although my talent and skills never developed, I have always been drawn to visual arts. Years ago, one of my closest colleagues was a middle school art teacher who always claimed that art is the center of the universe. I would counter that everything could be better understood using science. But these viewpoints were not opposing, they were complimentary, and we worked together with students of all ages to raise awareness of the environment through art and science.

So today I came across STEAM. No, not a misspelling of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), but STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).  I love it. I don’t know if they invented it, but you can see more about it at this site operated by a group at the Rhode Island School of Design. This is the kind of innovation we need to drive our adaptation challenges.

Art also has great power to communicate ideas about the changing world.  One project, Honoring the Future ,is working to engage the public in climate awareness and action. Their project hopes to launch “Climate SmARTS” communities.


James Blalog’s art

Important week in climate change communication

This week had both the premiere of the Showtime’s Years of Dangerous Living and the delivery of the IPCC latest report.

Did you watch Years of Dangerous Living? I am hopefully skeptical about the power of documentaries to move people to action. I don’t have Showtime (or cable TV), but I watched the first episode for free on YouTube. It is well worth the time, even for people who are already aware of climate change impacts. The production values are high and the very personal approach to the stories is quite moving. The celebrities involved in the first episode, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle and journalist Tom Friedman were very appealing.  I hope the series gets released to Netflix or some other similar service soon after its broadcast so I can see the rest (PBS on demand?)

Ultimately, will we see an increased awareness of climate change or the golden ring of behavior change from this documentary series? I think that every repeated message counts a little, but that actual experiences, rather than virtual ones, are needed for to actually raise awareness or achieve  some behavior change.

The IPCC report has generated quite a few news stories (for example Science Guardian, USA Today). Like the film, the report will enter the public consciousness of some folks and be an important reference point, but I don’t think we will see immediate results of all that hard work. It took civilization a long time to get to this point, let’s hope we can be more agile in looking toward the future.