5 things we’ve learned this year about climate change and what they mean for Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, NY – The Earth has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius since the mid-19th century, a steady increase fueled by human-caused emissions that scientists predict will cause spiraling impacts in the decades to come who have already started to make a presence.

The mechanisms behind this increase – greenhouse gas emissions primarily from the burning of fossil fuels which then enter the atmosphere – are well understood, but levels of methane and carbon dioxide continue to rise. increase despite the general understanding that these trends will need to be radically altered to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Staten Island, a coastal community that is no stranger to impacts such as extreme weather and a changing environment, will not be immune to these threats.

The Advance/SILive.com, through a multi-part series focusing on the local effects of climate change and efforts to change the course of the planet, explored how the borough could see transitions that fundamentally change people’s lives. ordinary residents.

Here are five things we learned.

Staten Island and the Climate: Five Things We Learned This Year

Oakwood Beach residents search for loved ones after flood waters from Hurricane Sandy recede on October 30, 2012. (Staten Island Advance/Anthony DePrimo) Staff-Shot

Sea level rise is one of the most pronounced by-products of a planet warming so rapidly that scientists say summer ice in the Arctic will almost certainly disappear by 2050.

Twenty years ago, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide gauge near Mariners Harbor was forecast to see between 15 and 35 days of heavy flooding. Only seven were recorded in 2020, more than double the total 20 years earlier.

On the East Shore, the changes could be more pronounced. Projections predict that sea level rise in the United States over the next 30 years will equal the rise seen over the past 100 years.

Analyzes have found that neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy a decade ago could experience more daily damage from high-tide flooding and greater risk of dangerous storm surge by the end of the century.

In Great Kills, for example, high tide flooding would overtake Oakwood Beach and spread into the inland marshes that precede Mill Road by 2100, even under optimistic emissions scenarios that aim to keep warming below 1 .5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Staten Island and the Climate: Five Things We Learned This Year

Exhaust emissions are considered one of the major contributors to ozone quality. (advanced file photo)ADVANCE FROM STATEN ISLAND

Despite the worrying consequences of climate change, scientists note that even if warming is not limited to the promises set out in the 2015 international climate agreement in Paris, the mitigation of every additional tenth of a degree will make a difference.

A recent UN report revealed that the planet is currently on course to warm between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees by the end of the century.

Still, there are signs of hope.

Alternative energy sources are developing rapidly and ambitious targets aim to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on energy systems.

Although questions remain as to how quickly these goals can be achieved and how quickly the technology to perform actions such as capturing carbon emissions can be improved, reducing the impacts of high emitting sites and their role in mitigation of the rise in average temperatures will be significant.

Staten Island and the Climate: Five Things We Learned This Year

Con Edison is among the businesses and agencies threatened by climate change in the coming decades. (Staten Island lead/Joseph Ostapiuk)

Higher seas and warmer days seriously threaten infrastructure essential for keeping the lights on, caring for the sick on the island, and keeping raw sewage from seeping into the streets.

Con Edison, the city’s energy provider, currently expects about four days per year with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees. That total is expected to reach 23 days by 2050, putting a heavy strain on the company’s network.

Heat is currently the deadliest impact of climate change, causing more deaths each year than weather disasters. However, high temperatures are joined by more extreme storms and rising seas as a trio of hazards that the borough’s important infrastructure must address in the coming decades.

Con Edison alone has spent more than a billion dollars to secure parts of its energy system in the city, fortify underground networks and strengthen the resistance of utility poles at risk of falling during high winds.

The city’s Environmental Protection Department’s Oakwood Beach Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility, which had to run operations on backup generators during Sandy to prevent approximately 80 million gallons of sewage raw sewage from flowing back into the street, falls under the protection that will be offered by the East Shore Seawall which will extend from Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach.

And after Sandy’s floodwaters came within 100 yards of basement generators at Staten Island University Hospital, city-backed efforts helped elevate mechanical and electrical infrastructure while strengthening local resilience.

Staten Island and the Climate: Five Things We Learned This Year

A flooded West Shore highway after the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit Staten Island. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)Jan Somma Hammel

Stronger storms that unleash torrents of rain that overwhelm New York’s aging sewer system have already been experienced in recent years after the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped more than three inches of rain in just one hour.

Detailed simulations now allow experts to see how much climate change is affecting individual storms. Recent observations show that a 5-15% increase in total precipitation is related to observed warming over the past 150 years.

“If I were to take a storm today, and were to magically put it in a time machine and send it to the year 2075, that storm would produce more rain, all things being equal, than if it was today, or if it happened 100 years ago,” Colin Zarzycki, assistant professor in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences at Penn State University, previously told Advance/SILive. com.

The reason: Warmer temperatures warm air particles in Earth’s atmosphere, allowing them to hold more moisture than cooler particles. Storms, which are very effective at ringing out all the water vapor in the atmosphere, release this moisture as heavy precipitation.

UN experts have said that people under the age of 10 in 2020 are expected to see “an almost fourfold increase in extreme events under 1.5°C global warming and a fivefold increase under 3°C warming “.

Staten Island and the Climate: Five Things We Learned This Year

A section of the New Creek Bluebelt along Olympia Boulevard is shown Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Staten Island Advance/Paul Liotta)

Serious and deliberate reductions in global emissions are needed to stave off further warming, but simpler and more local solutions could also prove useful in an environment altered by climate change.

The expansion of Staten Island’s Bluebelt System, a groundbreaking network of green infrastructure that uses vast natural areas to reduce pressure on the city’s sewer system during severe storms, could have outsized impacts on reducing floods, for example.

And when infrastructure such as roads are created, the use of porous materials could help capture rainwater that would otherwise run off streets and sidewalks before entering the sewer system. The city has already launched a technology utilization program.

Deer, known for their widespread presence on Staten Island, are also responsible for damaging the borough’s forests. Managing their population would help trees stay healthy and continue to provide local cooling effects, experts said.

Studies have shown that the tree canopy on Staten Island is patchy, leaving the North Shore with fewer positive benefits. Addressing this disproportionate distribution could help mitigate the impacts.

Strengthening transportation infrastructure on an island known for its limited travel options would both help reduce traffic and reduce Staten Island’s carbon footprint. More consistent bus service, a bike-share program and reliable bus lanes are among the recommendations from experts.

“People will use public transit when it’s more reliable, and the government needs to invest in making sure that’s an option, especially on an island like Staten Island where we’re far too reliant on the car and we we don’t need to be,” said Daniel Zarrilli. , a former chief climate policy adviser for the city and a resident of Staten Island.

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