NASA News & Feature Releases

Scientists Prepare New York City for Future Climate Change

Scientists and government agencies in New York City have joined forces to meet the challenges climate change is expected to have on the city.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, will present the early results of a landmark study Friday June 4, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Boston, Mass.

Rosenzweig's study, Climate Change and a Global City: an Assessment of the Metropolitan East Coast Region, is part of the U.S. National Assessment on the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. The project is sponsored by several federal agencies including NASA and seeks to prepare New York City's metropolitan area for future climate change challenges by pairing scientists with local governments. Rosenzweig says that city agencies will be able to make decisions based on current information from the study to help mitigate future problems with aging roads, public health, coastal erosion, water supply and wetlands.

"Climate change in urban areas is understudied, and it is amazing to me how complex the metropolitan area is," says Rosenzweig. "We are looking at how people, place and decision mechanisms of the city respond to climate change and variability as well as to each other."

One of the advantages of the project is that cities receive scientific analysis directly from the research teams and can use the information to take action. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with sea-level change scientists to estimate future beach erosion rates due to sea-level rise. This information can be used to predict conditions, such as coastal storms, that would speed up erosion rates and to plan effective strategies to protect the shore.

Sea-level rise is eroding the shoreline of New York and also is predicted to raise the salt level in the city's fresh water supply. New York City public water supply planners and hydrologists have found that changes in the salt front, which is where water salinity levels off the shore reach 100 milligrams per liter, will affect the fresh water supply. The team found that the salt front could extend up the Hudson River and be detrimental to the city's water supply.

Wetland conservation is another issue studied by this project. By analyzing aerial photography and remotely-sensed data, land surface scientists and city planners are able to see the changes in New York's wetlands over the past 20 years. The information can help project whether wetland areas will grow or shrink due to climate changes and develop policies and preservation practices to protect New York's wetlands.

Another team consisting of climate researchers and the New York City Department of Health is investigating the impacts of climate change on asthma patients. The team evaluates the current state of the atmosphere and will predict how future air quality will affect asthma suffers, according to Rosenzweig.

Climate researchers also are working closely with city planners to investigate the influence of the "urban heat island" effect on the city, which occurs because asphalt and concrete absorb and retain more heat than vegetation, causing cities to be warmer than surrounding areas. This warming causes an increase in smog, which contributes to asthma and other respiratory problems.

The National Assessment consists of 20 regional projects that identify future challenges due to climate change. The regional projects focus on agriculture, coastal areas and marine resources, forests, human health and water resources. The regional reports will include results from research conducted between 1997 through 2000, but the projects are seen as ongoing studies. A national synthesis will compile results from the next 25-30 years and also over the next 100 years.

Rosenzweig is the Co-Regional Assessment Contact for the Metropolitan East Coast region and is actively involved in the research being conducted by this project. The National Assessment is unique because it couples scientists with government agencies that have the authority to act on the research results. This project focuses on potential climate changes and the impacts on the 31-county region that comprises the New York City metropolitan area.

Media Contacts

Leslie McCarthy, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y., 212-678-5507,