The Adaptive Triad of Science, Policy, and Design (Extended Coverage)

Hunter Jones, Program Specialist, Climate Program Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA is considered America’s environmental intelligence agency. That’s how the administrator would describe it. It’s easy to see why if you take a look at all the things that we do. I like to think of it as, if it happens in the ocean or the atmosphere, or is somehow influenced by or influences those domains, we probably play a role in it somehow. We do everything from climate modeling to weather forecasting to mapping and exploring oceans and supporting coastal resilience. We have an investment in heat and health and resilience to heat.

In two representative scenarios from the National Climate Assessment based on observations and predictions for the future of global average temperature, one is more extreme and one is a lot less extreme. It’s really up to us to determine which of these trajectories to take, based on greenhouse-gas emissions and other influences over the climate. The temperature increase will not be even across the entire world: the northern latitudes will warm the most, which is significant because those are the areas where people are less adjusted to extreme heat. Zooming in to a national view and looking at the history of temperature departures in the end of the 20th century as compared to the beginning, virtually all parts of the United States have warmed except for a slight warming hole in the lower east, where the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has played a role in dampening that warming. [Suggested still image: ca. 15:45 in video master 1.] Particularly since the ’70s, there’s been quite a trend: the average temperature of the U.S. has increased by 1.3 to 1.9° Fahrenheit since recordkeeping began. Looking at projections, no matter what the scenario is, the temperature is projected to rise, but under a variety of scenarios the warming is more extreme in the northern latitudes as opposed to the southern latitudes for 2041 to 2070, as compared to the end of the 20th century. There’s going to be quite an increase in the number of days that are over 90° F along the east coast, particularly in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York City.

There’s more to extreme heat than just average temperatures. There are also the currents of heat waves: anomalous periods of time where there’s a spike in temperature (e.g., the Dust Bowl in the ’30s). What’s interesting about this spike is that the extreme heat experienced in the ’30s was really daytime temperatures; nighttime temperatures dropped and allowed people to recover from some of the day’s extreme heat. We’re not seeing that as much any more: people are getting less recovery at night.

Looking into the future at heat waves, not just averages, the news is not good. [Still: ca. 19:00.] Intensity, duration, and frequency are all going up for heat waves. Their seasonality is still being looked into – whether they’re more frequent in the beginning or end of the summer season. Their character is changing: some places that have experienced dryer heat in the past may now be experiencing more humid heat waves (humidity, direct exposure to sunlight, and wind all influence perceived temperature during a heat wave). Finally, attribution: more and more scientists are comfortable with the studies showing that these heat waves are anthropogenic. They’re starting to see more of a signal of our impact, that we’re causing them to be exacerbated.

Among Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) groups around the country, the newsletter from the California RISA shows that they have experienced wetter heat waves than they’re used to. Robert Kopp and colleagues wrote in the New York Times recently that “from 1981 to 2010, the average Amercian experienced four dangerously humid days…. By 2030, that level is expected to more than double, to about 10 days per summer. Manhattanites are expected to experience nearly seven uncomfortably muggy weeks in a typical summer, with wet-bulb temperatures exceeding 74 degrees, about as many as residents of Washington have experienced recently.” I’m sorry: I don’t like the heat waves in D.C., but they’re coming up here.

NOAA doesn’t do as much research on the urban heat-island effect; we do more global-scale research on atmospheric and oceanic dynamics. But it’s well understood that the downtown parts of cities are a lot hotter than the rural part. One of the most interesting things about the urban heat-island effect is that a lot of the heat is released at night, so there’s this danger of higher nighttime temperatures during heat waves (the average urban heat-island effect for a mid-latitude city could be up to 12° Celsius at night as compared to the rural areas). All these different stacked effects contribute to higher nighttime temperatures, which are dangerous.

NOAA produces a number of products with different lead times from hours all the way to seasons, months, and years. Some are very specific and skillful at representing what we can expect the perceived temperature to be in the next week or two. After that, the scale starts to degrade. It’s not until we get to climate-scale projections — looking at what’s going to happen a century from now and incorporating climate-change scenarios, greenhouse-gas scenarios, and starting to rely on the proper configuration of the models – that we again get a lot of skill. There’s a skill gap at the seasonal to subseasonal scale. My office funds research that examines how we can close that gap from weather forecasting of a one- to two-week time frame to more climate-scale forecasting of decades and centuries, because you have to make decisions at a number of time scales. Organizations in emergency management, architecture, and urban planning need to know what we can expect heat waves to be like at all these different time scales, and so we’re working on products that do that.

The National Weather Service releases products, policies, and guidelines, but it’s really up to the regional weather-forecast offices how they want to implement these and call a heat watch, alert, or warning. There are different warning criteria (e.g., the Kalkstein procedures, used in the Philadelphia area to classify the oppressiveness of the air surrounding the city). The Climate Program Office is interested in developing a National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), announced last June by the White House, to integrate our research with societal needs. Improved predictions and products would not be helpful if we didn’t also educate people on how to use them and change behavior during heat waves, so our work spans the spectrum from foundational to applied research. We kicked off the NIHHIS with workshops; the most prominent one in Chicago this past July, during the 20th anniversary of the 1995 heat wave, where over 700 people perished. We’d like to launch pilot systems with common characteristics: a well-defined problem, help with capacity-building, an institutional commitment, and an ultimate outcome of a society that is more resilient to extreme heat.


Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Deputy Director, Social and Economic Resiliency, New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency; New York City Program Policy Director, The Nature Conservancy

Climate change is not something that is happening in the future for us, as with many cities globally; we are seeing the impacts today. We have 8.4 million New Yorkers in about 300 square miles of land, and that’s 43% of the state’s population. In 2010 we had five separate events in which we had two or more days reaching more than 95°, and nine events in total if we count those days that were three or more above 90°. Between 2000 and 2011 we had 154 heat-related deaths and more than 1,600 hospital admissions for heat-related illnesses; between 2005 and 2010 we had more than 2,600 emergency-department visits for heat-related illnesses. These are not small numbers, and we see it more in certain neighborhoods and certain parts of our population.

On April 22, 2015, Mayor de Blasio released the long-term strategic plan One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, building on a long history, a good foundation from the previous administration’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) report and PlaNYC. The plan is organized across four strategic visions for growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency; I work on the resiliency vision’s neighborhoods chapter, to ensure that our neighborhoods, economy, and public services are ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change. We have sections on infrastructure and coastal defenses. We are engaging community-based organizations and small businesses, ensuring that workforce development is part of our resiliency investments and sustainability efforts. We have the Million Trees campaign; investments in green and natural infrastructure, with partners from the Parks Department; Heat Emergency Response and Outreach, with our Emergency Management Office and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; the Cool Roofs program and legislation; and the Urban Heat Island Working Group.

Cool Roofs was launched in September 2009 with the goal to coat a million square feet of rooftops per year, increasing the city’s albedo. So far we have coated 6 million sf, and we are still going, under the capable leadership of our Small Business Services Department in a collaboration across several city agencies, with Columbia University assisting with monitoring. We also created a “Cool It Yourself” program, an outreach campaign for building owners. In 2011, we updated the New York City building code to require higher reflectivity standards for all substntial replacements and retrofits of flat roofs; we would like to pursue legislation to expand this law to cover sloped roofs.

This year the Mayor’s office launched the Urban Heat Island Working Group in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy; it’s multisectoral, with city and state agencies, academia (Princeton, Columbia, the CUNYs), and the not-for-profit sector (Environmental Justice and the Natural Resources Defense Council). These researchers created a vulnerability index of variables including the proportion of homes receiving public assistance, proportion of non-Hispanic Black residents, proportion of overall deaths that were occurring in the home, reflective surface temperature, and proportion of trees. Merging these together, the researchers plotted census tracts to show vulnerability. When they examined this index as a modifier of heat-related mortality, they observed a clear association: individuals who lived in tracts with higher composite index scores were more likely to die during a heat wave.

We are working with New York State to increase funding to purchase and install air conditioners for vulnerable New Yorkers and subsidize the incremental costs of electricity. Addressing concerns about climate change, we want energy-efficient air conditioners; this is the best intervention we have to prevent mortality. We are ensuring that critical buildings can safely use them (with New York City’s old building stock, many buildings’ wiring cannot support air-conditioner use). To ensure that residents in congregate facilities – single-room-occupancy spaces, nursing homes, long-term-care and mental-health facilities – have access to air-conditioned spaces during extreme heat, we are considering a maximum indoor-temperature regulation like the city’s Multiple Dwelling Law, which requires minimum indoor temperatures during winter.

Urban heat-island mitigation and adaptation requires a multi-prong approach involving science, emergency management, and natural infrastructure (forestry, green infrastructure, wetlands) to keep our neighborhoods cooler. Targeted interventions that focus on the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods and populations will improve the health and safety of all New Yorkers. The planet is getting warmer; we’re racing against the clock; our results will be seen over time. Long-term planning is critical to identify appropriate health-based interventions and mitigation strategies to ensure that we are more resilient in the 21st century.


Andrew Whalley, AIA, RIBA, Deputy Chairman, Grimshaw Architects

What’s a Brit doing talking about extreme heat? It’s a bit of an oxymoron. For what it’s worth, I was born in Australia; we do quite a lot of work in Australia, which may be more relevant. Thirty years ago in Europe’s hottest city, Seville, we were asked to put forward ideas for the British Pavilion in the World Expo. We thought it was important to explore an architecture that was responsive to its environment, and also to learn from the traditional architecture. In one of Nick Grimshaw’s sketches, the idea is buffering and layering: shielding the building, harvesting energy, having a layering of heat where only the most important aspects of the building were air-conditioned, and using solar power to cool the building. Our approach also had to be built as a kit of parts, transported, and built very quickly, so we had to use lightweight construction. So there’s a multiple layering of fabrics to shield the building: the roof is a mixture of brise-soleil and photovoltaics (PVs), harvesting energy that pumps water from a high water table that pours over the main façade. [Still: ca. 53:20.] The rest of the building is made out of sea containers filled with sand, so it gave us a huge thermal sink at the rear, and the beauty of this was that as the water poured down the building, it basically removed all of the heat from the sunlight hitting the building. We’re also learning from the indigenous architecture of the region, which often uses water to create microclimates and cooled sheltered courtyards. As you’re stepping into the building, unlike a sun-shading system, it was actually washed with light, because the full visible spectrum of light entered the building. The water removed the infrared component of the light; in other words, it removed all the heat, and you have basically cool light entering and filling the building.

We’ve worked with Charlie Paton, a British inventor, who came up with a concept called the Seawater Greenhouse, which uses salt water and sunlight to grow food. It pumps water with PV power and saturates the air with sea water; that very humid air is passed over condensers, and the water that condenses off goes into an irrigation system that feeds all the food. It allows you to grow food in the desert with absolutely no potable water; you’re generating all the water you need. We’ve taken that sort of thinking and worked with Charlie, trying to make one of the Canary Islands basically energy-zero. It has very little natural water and no energy, so we came up with a whole series of different ideas for generating power and generating fresh water, drawing on a biomimicry idea for the Teatro del Agua in Las Palmas.

The Namibian fog beetle survives in the desert by condensating water on its shell: it’s both hydrophilic, in that it attracts the humid air and forces water droplets to form on its skin, and it’s hydrophobic, so those water droplets roll across its skin to form a droplet it then drinks from during the night. The great thing about the Canary Islands is that they’re all volcanic, surrounded by very deep sea water, and so we poured that water down the rear of the building, then took the high-level sea water, which is very warm, and poured it down the front. As the air goes through it humidifies and then condensates, so you’re just generating water. As it was such a large structure, generating enough water for the city, we also then wanted to turn it into something that became a major architectural piece: the backdrop to a theater for the city. It’s a piece of infrastructure, but also a piece of culture.

In the Middle East, a huge amount of energy goes into desalination. All the water has to be generated through osmosis, and so we are interested in looking at techniques where you can do this in a passive way. We’re currently prototyping landscape canopy systems like a series of trees that surround a building and shade the landscape. The obvious component is a PV array that tracks the sun; with even a high-efficiency PV array, tracking the sun increases the efficiency by nearly 30%. It works 24 hours a day, condensating humid air and generating fresh water for the building. It’s using multiple layers and creating a huge surface area through micromesh with a hydrophobic coating, which has been researched at MIT; the current conservative figure is that 17 of these canopies in the landscape will generate nearly 22,000 liters of water every night.

A few years ago we did the Eden Project with Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley, looking at halophytes: 2% of plants on Earth, the only plants that can live off seawater. There’s a lot of research going into using them to create not just landscapes but products, both food and fuel. In an office headquarters we’re doing on Monterrey, the roof is harvesting as much energy as we can, but also harvesting water; rather than a traditional atrium full of plants, we use all that water through a series of pools, and selected plants’ root systems help clean that water, so after a week or so of circulating the water through the pools we capture it as clean water, which we can use to irrigate the landscape and supply graywater for the building.

For us, there has to be a purpose for shapes and forms. There has to be a performance characteristic for the building. In Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, the design brief from the government was a roof full of plants and equipment to extract diesel fumes from inside the building and keep it cool through the hot summer days. We noticed there were two strong prevailing winds across the site, and so we created a roof that was a mobile system by reverse-engineering the way that mobiles are created. When those two prevailing winds crossed the roof, it basically extracted all the air from inside the building, and then the skin of the roof is a shell that we can extract air from. With a lot of computational fluid-dynamics analysis and wind-tunnel testing, we made the system work: the roof form is the environmental system, and there are no mechanical systems whatsoever.

We’re currently constructing Miami’s new science museum, part of an overall development in the new park Herzog and de Meuron are doing. Of course, a science museum has to demonstrate the right thinking in the technology and approach to environmental architecture. Thinking what parts could be open or need to be closed, we asked how we could use the cool ocean breezes and sculpt the building to harness the wind and capture mid-afternoon summer rain. Early on in the design exploration we were lucky to get a Department of Energy grant that allowed us to push the design thinking. This is where parametric design systems really come into their own as a suite of components that allow you to sculpt the building; we used those to form an open structure, with all the circulation spaces around what we call the living core, which contains an aquarium exploring the Everglades and the Gulf, all open, cooled through natural breezes. At the very top is the Gulf tank with sharks and other fish swimming, and one of the most exciting parts is the bottom, where we have a 35-meter-wide oculus. It’ll be like being a diver looking up and watching the fish.

PVs are now getting up to nearly 24% efficiency; solar heat collectors can be up into the eighties. We’re looking at using both. At the Civil Aviation Authority headquarters in Qatar – probably the hottest, most extreme environment you could work within – we try to create an environmental response that means the building uses no more energy than a well-designed building in New York or London. There’s not one simple solution; you have to interrogate every element of the building. We’re harnessing PVs on the building itself; there’s motorized shading, overhanging roofs, and solar-powered absorption chilling systems, using the sun as part of the overall cooling strategy. Energy is kept to the minimum and recycled throughout the building. Putting all those things together, ultimately we’re using 63% less energy than the current energy standard for a to-code, well-designed building in the region. Everyone also has access to views and light and actually connects to the landscape, which I think is important in any working environment. That gives you our 30-year journey so far in extreme heat; I think we’re just at the beginning of that process, and it’s a challenge we’re enjoying.