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.