Stevens Institute of Technology Research Informs New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Ambitious Climate Change Protection Proposal

In Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Stevens Researchers Bring Scientific and Technical Expertise to Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resilience

6/12/2013

Hoboken, N.J. – Stevens Institute of Technology continues to shape the policy discussion around climate change and extreme weather, as Dr. Philip Orton and Dr. Nickitas Georgas contributed advanced scientific research to inform the proposals outlined in “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a major report released this week by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The report outlines more than 250 specific recommendations to fortify the city against climate events.

In December 2012, Mayor Bloomberg created the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) to address how to create a more resilient New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with a long-term focus on preparing for and protecting against the impacts of climate change. He also re-convened the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), initially created in 2008 to develop local climate change projections. After Hurricane Sandy, NPCC was tasked to update its projections and develop future coastal flood risk maps to assist the SIRR.

Dr. Orton was a NPCC report technical contributor, and, along with Dr. Georgas and other leading climate scientists, helped to inform the SIRR report. The scientists conducted cutting-edge research into storm surge predictions, flood protection and adaptation assessments. The key findings of the report – that by 2050 sea levels could rise 2.5 feet and that the city could have three times as many days at or above 90 degrees and experience five days with more than 2 inches of rainfall – stressed the serious and pressing challenges presented by a changing climate.

Under the auspices of the Center for Maritime Systems (CMS) – a Stevens research center which focuses on assessing, predicting and mitigating the damage of coastal disasters – Dr. Orton, a research scientist, and Dr. Georgas, a research assistant professor, collaborated in innovative research to better understand the impacts of storm surges on the region. They used advanced computer models to simulate Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge and then altered the timing of landfall to see how flooding impacts would change.

“Sandy made landfall at high tide in New York Harbor and near low tide in Western Long Island Sound,” said Orton. “In our modeling, we shifted the timing of the storm so it came several hours earlier, coinciding with high tide in Long Island Sound. This highlighted a very different flooding scenario, in which flooding would have been much worse at LaGuardia Airport, North Queens and the Bronx.”

“The western shores of Connecticut would also have seen several feet more water, with Long Island Sound levels rising to the design elevation of the storm surge barrier built decades ago to protect the city of Stamford from catastrophic flooding,” Georgas added. “It becomes quickly obvious that even under modest climate change scenarios our coastal cities are at critical risk without urgent, but science-informed, adaptation measures.”

Orton also advised the SIRR studies on coastal adaptations to reduce future flooding. Using computer modeling of storm surges, the study explored the impact of protective measures such as walls, wetlands, storm surge barriers, sand dunes, and changes in the depths of shipping channels.

Dr. Alan Blumberg, director of Davidson Laboratory at Stevens, and graduate student Larry Yin were also involved in the research to inform “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.”

“Flooding is already an urgent problem for New York City and New Jersey, and climate change and sea level rise are only going to make things worse,” said Orton.

“There will be many more investigations into Hurricane Sandy, as well as on adaptation options to reduce future flooding,” added Blumberg.

“…Hurricane Sandy made it all too clear that, no matter how far we’ve come, we still face real, immediate threats,” said Mayor Bloomberg in the city’s official press release. “These concrete recommendations for how to confront the risks we face will build a stronger more resilient New York … This is urgent work, and it must begin now.”

“A Stronger, More Resilient New York” is available on www.nyc.gov.

About Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens Institute of TechnologyThe Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense, STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is the fastest-rising college in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of the best national universities, and it is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs, and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact. 

Photo credit: New York City Mayor's Office