Heat Island Science

  • A city like Las Vegas is actually cooler than the desert, because of all the lawns and trees inside the city. And a city like Chicago is hotter than the tree-lined suburbs surrounding it. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Not all heat island effects are
the same. But, Rebecca Williams
reports, NASA scientists have
found there’s one thing all cities
can do to cool things down:

Transcript

Not all heat island effects are
the same. But, Rebecca Williams
reports, NASA scientists have
found there’s one thing all cities
can do to cool things down:

The NASA scientists found the heat island effect is much less intense in hot, dry parts of the country.

A city like Las Vegas is actually cooler than the desert, because of all the lawns and trees inside the city. And a city like Chicago is hotter than the tree-lined suburbs surrounding it.

It’s all about trees. Shady trees cool things down.

Lahouari Bounoua is one of the researchers.

“One of the most simple and natural ways of mitigating the excess heat is to plant trees within the cities.”

He says the key is to make sure the trees you plant are well adapted to the region, so you don’t end up wasting water. He says that’ll be even more important as the climate continues to change.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Native Americans Lose Land to Climate Change

  • Choctaw Chief Albert Naquin has watched his tribe's island - the Isle de Jean Charles - go from four miles across to a quarter mile across. (Photo by Samara Freemark)

Over the next century, rising
sea levels will change coastlines
all over the world. But the impact
might be most dramatic in South
Louisiana. A study out last month
predicts the state will lose up to
5000 square miles in the next
century – a chunk of land the size
of Connecticut. If the report’s
authors are right, that means a
lot of people in Louisiana are
going to have to relocate – become
climate refugees. Samara Freemark has the story of one of
the first communities to be displaced:

Transcript

Over the next century, rising sea levels will change coastlines all over the world. But the impact might be most dramatic in South Louisiana. A study out last month predicts the state will lose up to 5000 square miles in the next century – a chunk of land the size of Connecticut. If the report’s authors are right, that means a lot of people in Louisiana are going to have to relocate – become climate refugees. Samara Freemark has the story of one of the first communities to be displaced:

It was sometime in the mid-1970s that Albert Naquin first realized that Isle de Jean Charles was sinking. Naquin had grown up on the island. He’s the chief of a group of Choctaws who have lived there since the 19th century – and when he was a kid, it was a pretty good community: it had stores, a couple of churches, horse pastures and fields. But those are all gone now.

“Salt water kept coming in, faster and faster, and now it’s basically just beach.”

Isle de Jean Charles is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The list of reasons why is long. There’s subsidence- that’s the natural phenomenon where delta regions kind of settle down on themselves. There are the dams that block the sediment that used to wash down and build the land back up. There are oil company canals that slice through the wetlands, hurricanes that tear up the island’s coastline, and, of course, there’s rising sea levels.

All together they explain why Isle de Jean Charles used to be about 4 miles across and now has shrunk to a quarter mile.

“Now, we see the disaster that is Isle de Jean.”

We’re in Naquin’s pickup truck, and he’s driving me out to the island.

“See this little house moved across the way, this house. These 1, 2, 3 are deserted.”

Naquin himself moved off the island awhile ago. But for years he was happy to support families who chose to stay. In fact, when the US government came to him in 2002 and offered to pay to help people move off the island, he resisted.

“So, I said, ‘what they gonna do, tell us they’re gonna move us there and then next thing send us a bill for the house?’ You know, so I said, ‘no, that’s just a modern day Trail of Tears. We’re not moving.’”

But lately Naquin has just gotten tired. Tired of evacuating people before storms, tired of helping them rebuild after, tired of watching the sea nibble away at the island.

And so he decided – enough. For the past year he’s been on a mission to convince the 25 families still living on the island to abandon it.

“They’re not going to save the island. It’s going to be gone. Either we move now or we move later, ‘cause we will move.”

But not everyone is ready to leave.

(sound of greeting and talking)

Naquin pulls over to talk to Dominique Dardar.

Dardar’s house was leveled by Hurricane Gustav last summer. He’s rebuilding it with pieces of other houses he’s found blowing around the island- bits of roof and siding. Dardar says he’s not moving.

“I ain’t never gonna move. I’m gonna stay over here. That’s my territory.”

Across the street Wenselas Billiot lives in a house raised 13 feet in the air.

Billiot is Naquin’s brother in law. He’s in his 80s and has lived on the island his whole life. I ask him what he’ll do if the island shrinks any more.

“That’s going to be rough. But, as long as I can stay, I’ll stay. I was born and raised on the island. As long as I can stay here I’m going to stay.”

Albert Naquin hasn’t given up. He thinks if he can get everyone to agree, the government will help the tribe get a big piece of land where they can all relocate as a group. He’s already thinking of names for the new town.

“We could say, Island Number Two, or Isle de Jean Charles New Beginning, or something like that. But I think we just name it Isle de Jean Charles 2. I think that has a good sound to it.”

In short, Naquin is trying to figure out how to keep the idea of Isle de Jean Charles alive, even when the island itself no longer exists.

It’s a challenge many Louisiana communities could soon face.

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

Part Two: Canada’s Take on Trash

  • Gerry Moore’s the CEO of Island Waste Management – the company that runs the waste program on Prince Edward Island. He’s pointing at an aerial shot of the compost facility. (Photo by Kinna Ohman)

The recycling and composting rate
in the United States runs just around thirty
percent. That means seventy percent of our
waste still goes to landfills. Government
officials and others in charge of recycling
programs say we’re doing pretty well with
what we have available. But there’s a
community that’s challenging that assumption.
Kinna Ohman reports:

Transcript

The recycling and composting rate
in the United States runs just around thirty
percent. That means seventy percent of our
waste still goes to landfills. Government
officials and others in charge of recycling
programs say we’re doing pretty well with
what we have available. But there’s a
community that’s challenging that assumption.
Kinna Ohman reports:

Prince Edward Island’s one of those places where people who grow up here, stay here.
And it’s no wonder. The island’s off Canada’s eastern coast. It’s covered with rolling
green farmland, dark forests, and copper-red beaches. It’s Canada’s smallest province –
about the size of Delaware.

Prince Edward Island has a population of only 160,000. There seems to be enough room
for everyone.

But not for every thing.

Around ten years ago, the residents of Prince Edward Island saw their landfills filling up.
That meant digging more. They wanted to do something about it – and fast.

So they started an aggressive recycling and composting program.

Gerry Moore’s the CEO of Island Waste Management – the company that runs the
program. Moore says to make it happen quickly,

“We had to make this mandatory. It wasn’t something that we could go out and ask
people, ‘well, listen, this is the right thing to environmentally.’ We made it
mandatory.”

Moore says they had to be tough. If people didn’t separate their compost and recycling
from their waste, the company refused to pick it up. That was a difficult time for
politicians.

“And, to be quite honest with you, in the initial stages, it was fairly painful. But, if
we didn’t do what we did, when we did it, the landfill we have now would be totally
full and we’d have to have another one. We’re recycling everything we totally
possibly can.”

(sounds of a compost facility)

And they are. People and businesses on Prince Edward Island recycle and compost 65%
of their waste. That’s more than double the average in the U.S.

A lot of the former waste now goes to the island’s composting facility. The facility takes
care of miscellaneous garbage that can’t be recycled – things such as certain types of
paper and food scraps.

(sound of door closing)

Gordon Smith shows me the compost curing warehouse. We’re now sealed in with
steaming mounds of dark compost that almost reach the ceiling. It’s muggy and hot.
About 130 degrees.

“So this is our finished compost you’re looking at right here. This large pile. And
that large pile over there as well.”

Smith’s the facilities supervisor for ADI – the company running the composting plant.
The facility handles 30,000 tons every year.

And with all that, you’d think Prince Edward Islanders would say ‘job done.’ Right? But
they’re trying to reduce landfill waste even more.

They want businesses to start using packaging that can be composted or recycled. Many
local businesses have switched.

But there’s a problem. Big multinational chain stores bring goods to Prince Edward
Island in packaging that cannot be recycled or composted. It all ends up in the island’s
landfill.

Gerry Moore knows his province is too small to really influence these companies. So
that’s where he hopes other communities will help out and join in.

“There will be initial pain with that in the front end. And a lot of politicians and
public figures don’t want to go through that pain. But, you know, we only have one
earth. And whether you’re from New York, or Prince Edward Island, or all over
the globe, anything we can remanufacture and reuse is only going to extend the life
of the planet.”

And Prince Edward Island officials think if they can do it, other places can too – if they
have the political will.

For The Environment Report, I’m Kinna Ohman.

Related Links

Sea of Controversy for Hawaii’s Superferry

  • Hawaii's Superferry was met with initial excitement, but it quickly turned to environmental concern (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Superferry)

For decades, people who wanted to get from
one Hawaiian island to another have had one main
option: flying. So when plans were unveiled for
a high-speed ferry between the islands, Hawaiians
and tourists were initially thrilled. But growing
concern about the Superferry’s potential environmental
impact has turned the issue into one of the state’s
biggest legal battles in years. Ann Dornfeld reports:

Transcript

For decades, people who wanted to get from
one Hawaiian island to another have had one main
option: flying. So when plans were unveiled for
a high-speed ferry between the islands, Hawaiians
and tourists were initially thrilled. But growing
concern about the Superferry’s potential environmental
impact has turned the issue into one of the state’s
biggest legal battles in years. Ann Dornfeld reports:

David Dinner is board president of the environmental group 1000 Friends
of Kaua’i. He lives near this small beach on the island’s north shore.
Dinner says when endangered humpback whales come to Hawaii in the
winter to give birth, you can whale-watch right from this beach. Even
when he lived far from the ocean, he once witnessed a huge migration
from his window.

“I could see that the ocean was filled with whales. And I later found out that there were 6,000 whales around Kaua’i at that
time. So it was like wall-to-wall whales out there.”

When Dinner first heard about plans for a high-speed inter-island
catamaran, he was excited. But the more he and others learned about the
Hawaii Superferry, the more they worried about its effect on those whales.

Mother whales spend a lot of time just below the surface, pushing their
calves up for air. The concern is that the ferry’s twin hulls would strike the
whales at a speed of up to 45 miles per hour. That’s a lot faster than other
boats like cruise ships and tankers.

“The other boats that travel in this area generally go in the area of 13 to 15
miles an hour. So the Superferry is way beyond the speed of the other boats.”

Another big worry was that the car ferry could bring invasive species from
one island to another. For instance, mongooses decimated the Big
Island’s bird population. But Kaua’i doesn’t have mongooses yet.

Rich Hoeppner is founder of the Superferry Impact Group.

“We have an incredible selection of birds here. We have shearwaters,
albatross, the state bird – the Nene, is a land-dweller and endangered
species. So one pregnant mongoose gets on our island, our bird
population will be history.”

When activists learned that the state government had given Hawaii
Superferry the green light without an environmental impact statement,
they filed suit. Last August, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state
should have required an environmental impact statement.

Despite that, just two days later, Superferry made its maiden voyage to
Kaua’i.

Rich Hoeppner says two dozen surfers and kayakers blocked the
boat’s path to Nawiliwili Harbor for hours.

The next night, protesters crowded the harbor, and dozens more people
took to the water – some in traditional Hawaiian canoes. Protesters
filmed the action.

(sound of protest chants)

“After 3 hours, the ferry, which was at the mouth of the harbor, turned
around and went back to Oahu. It didn’t get to its dock. And it hasn’t been
back since!”

Hawaii Superferry says it takes the environment seriously.

Terry O’Halloran is Director of Business Development. He points to the
company’s efforts to keep invasive species from hitching
a ride on vehicles.

“We look under the hood, we look in the trunk, we look in the wheel wells,
we look inside the vehicles, and then a certain number of vehicles that go
through our security screening get a much more thorough screening and
inspection.”

O’Halloran says vehicles with muddy tires aren’t allowed on board in case
bugs or seeds are in the dirt. There are boot scrubbers for passengers,
too. On-board videos warn travelers about the dangers of invasive
species.

O’Halloran says Superferry also has a Whale Avoidance Policy that
includes avoiding the main calving areas during whale season, and
slowing down in whale zones.

“We have been able to spot and avoid the whales. We also have two dedicated
whale lookouts and their only job is to help the captain spot whales.”

Superferry is still making its Oahu-to-Maui trips. In a special session,
Hawaii legislators passed a law allowing the Superferry to keep
running while the state conducts an Environmental Impact Statement.

Protestors say that’s a terrible idea – and illegal. They’re pursuing
lawsuits in the state Supreme Court to dock the ferry until it’s clear the
boat is safe.

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld on Kaua’i.

Related Links

Nyc Buys Island for Birds

Across the country, urban rivers that were once used almost
exclusively for industrial purposes are being reclaimed as parks.
Recently, a little island in New York City’s east river took the first
steps to becoming a nature preserve. Nora Flaherty has this report:

Transcript

Across the country, urban rivers that were once used almost
exclusively for industrial purposes are being reclaimed as parks.
Recently, a little island in New York City’s east river took the first
steps to becoming a nature preserve. Nora Flaherty has this report:


New York City’s south Brother Island used to belong to a gravel
and sand company. In spite of this, the island is a wild place, and
one that’s home to hundreds of herons and other birds, it’s also a
stopover on the Atlantic flyway migration. And now it’s the
property of New York City.


Rose Harvey is the mid-Atlantic regional director of the Trust For
Public Land. She says places like South Brother Island are a
national priority:


“We are pretty much working on all the coasts in the bays in the estuaries along the rivers
in the urban areas to ensure that the urban rivers and [all] are protected as much as the
more rural and remote areas.”


Harvey says that although New York residents won’t be able to use
the land for recreation, there’s value in just being able to see a
wild place from the riverbank.


For the Environment Report, I’m Nora Flaherty.

Related Links

Manmade Islands Stir Debate

For more than one hundred years, man has made changes to rivers and lakes. Locks, dams, and redirecting waterways has raised water levels and increased river flows. One effect has been the near disappearance of islands that once provided habitat for fish, plants, and birds. Some groups are trying to rebuild those islands. But the concept of a man-made island is not universally accepted. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:

Transcript

For more than one hundred years, man has made changes to rivers and lakes. Locks, dams,
and redirecting waterways has raised water levels and increased river flows. One effect
has been the near disappearance of islands that once provided habitat for fish, plants, and
birds. Some groups are trying to rebuild those islands. But the concept of a manmade
island is not universally accepted. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl
reports:


Jim Baldwin is driving his small boat along an island in the Illinois River, the body of
water that connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. He is an environmentalist
that has been watching this portion of the river for years, and likes what he sees. He’s retired now,
and spends most of his time either at his cabin on the riverfront just north of Peoria, Illinois
or working with environmental groups looking to preserve rivers and streams. These
islands are not natural. The Army Corps of Engineers made them ten years ago. Baldwin
says since then, it’s not uncommon for him to take his boat out and see fifty to a hundred
pelicans.


“Everybody tells me that until this island was built, they never even stopped here. Now
some of them stay year round.”


The Corps built the islands by dredging silt and sediment that had been clogging nearby
portions of the river. The theory is the manmade islands would provide a buffer from the
river flow, and create an area of deep water that could provide habitat for sport fish. It
would also provide a feeding area for migrating birds.


John Marlin is a researcher with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says the
program has been a success.


“The islands stop the large waves that come across the lake and there is a calm area behind
the islands the waterfowl seem to appreciate. Also, the birds such as pelicans and alot of the wading birds are using
the islands as resting areas.”


Marlin says the islands are growing thick vegetation, and the soil dredged from the river
has proven to be free of any pollutants that are present in some river sediments.


But not all environmentalists sing the praises of manmade islands. Some believe these
new islands will suffer the same fate of the natural islands that are now gone.


Tom Edwards is the head of River Rescue, an environmental group focusing on rivers. He
says the man made islands are only a temporary fix:


“The islands are an illusion. All of the wonderful that they say are going to result from the islands are not going to result. We have 113 islands in the river right now, and it hasn’t
resulted from a single one of them. So let’s learn from what’s here right now. So they are
going to dig the water deeper around these islands and hope that’s going create deep water.
It will be very temporary. Deep water amounts to a silt trap.”


Edwards says it is just a matter of time until the sediment fills up the deep water areas created by the manmade islands. He says until there are significant changes in land-use policy that keep sediment from entering rivers, manmade islands will only be a quick fix.


But river activist Jim Baldwin says many states and local governments are starting to adopt
land use policies that will keep sediment out of the Midwest Rivers and streams. He also
says using dredged materials to create the islands will help alleviate the problem. He says most importantly, the manmade islands are getting the job done.


“It does two things. Number one is it provides the deep water that we need for fisheries.
The island itself will grow trees and habitats for all kinds of birds. It will do that. That’s what it’s all based on is those two things.”


While the debate over man made islands continues, the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to build two more islands on the Illinois River in the coming years.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.

Cooling the City With Green Rooftops

  • The City Hall in Chicago is topped with plants and trees to try to cool things down. The city is working to reduce the heat island effect caused by so many blacktop roofs and parking lots. Photo by Lester Graham

On the nightly TV news in large cities, the meteorologist sometimes talks about the heat island effect. That’s where all the blacktop roofs and asphalt parking lots soak up the heat and increase the temperature on a hot summer day. One major U.S. city is trying to do something to reduce that effect. To set an example, the mayor decided to start with City Hall. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

On the nightly TV news in large cities, the meteorologist sometimes
talks about the heat island effect. That’s where all the blacktop roofs
and asphalt parking lots soak up the heat and increase the temperature
on a hot summer day. One major U.S. city is trying to do something to
reduce that effect. To set an example, the mayor decided to start with
City Hall. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Standing on the roof, eleven stories up, isn’t really far enough to escape
the noise of the city below. But this rooftop is an escape. It’s a garden, a
big one. There are even trees. Not in pots, but actually planted on… or…
in the roof.


Marcia Jiminez is the Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment. She says Chicago wants building owners to
do what they can to cool the city down… and planting gardens on the
roof is one way to do it. So that’s what the city did on top of City Hall.


“Well, the garden on the rooftop is addressing what we call an urban heat
island problem. By putting the garden with light colored pavers and the
green plants on top of the roof, we’re actually helping to use less energy
inside the building and it actually helps to keep the building cooler.”


Cooling down the building is just the beginning of this garden. Despite
being eleven stories up in the middle of downtown, the roof is alive with
bugs and butterflies.


“Actually birds and all of the insects, many of them, have found their
way up here. We’ve actually put up birdhouses to study what kind of
birds are coming to the rooftop garden. This is a place of
respite as well as a place to feed.”


The whole rooftop has become something of a lab. Scientists research
what animals have made a home here… and they’re monitoring how the
plants are spreading.


Kimberly Worthington worked on the City Hall project to see it go from
the drawing board to rooftop. She says they chose plants for color, form
and for survivability.


“The design that we went with was low maintenance, was what we were
looking for in our plant selection. And the landscape architects that were part of the design team focused on plants that would require less water. And they also wanted to keep as many native plants as possible. So, there are a lot of prairie plants up here.”


The Chicago City Hall rooftop project also reduces rain water runoff. 75-percent of a one-inch rain will be soaked up right here in the garden. That’s good because too much rain overflows sewers into Lake Michigan. If enough buildings in the city had rooftop gardens, stormwater runoff problems would be curtailed a bit.


While the city is touting the environmental benefits of its rooftop garden, in another part of the city a planned rooftop garden is all about people.


Brenda Koverman is with the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago. We’re up on the roof where she’s showing me landscape renderings of how the surrounding area will look once the planting begins. Stone paths, fountains, flower gardens and shrubs.
It’ll look beautiful. And it’ll probably cool things down up here. But Koverman
says this is for the patients who are learning to be mobile after disabling injuries. The hospital hopes that patients in rehabilitation will find the rooftop garden more pleasant and helpful than institutional tile floors and plastic obstacles as they learn to
manuever…


“You know, so, are patients more able to maneuver their wheelchairs in the community? Are patients able to use their hands better so they can cook better at home? Are patients able to stay out of the nursing home and go to their home? So, if we can get any kind of
those outcomes, then it’s a huge success.”


It might be more interested in the patients, but the hospital will still be helping Chicago reduce its heat island effect.


There aren’t very many of these projects in the city, so it’s hard to say whether the rooftop gardens could cool things down all that much. But Environment Commissioner Marcia Jiminez says all you have to do is go up on the roof on a hot day. City Hall sits right next to the County Building. In fact they look like the same building. But not from the roof. Only one side is garden.


“In last summer in 2001 on the hottest day, while it was about a hundred degrees on the city hall side, it was 165 on the opposite end of the building where’s there’s a blacktop roof.”


Even if you’re not interested in planting a garden on your roof, the city still requires some effort to cool things down. City ordinance calls for light colored material when a roof is replaced. And parking lots have to plant some trees before they can get a permit to resurface. Rooftop gardens aren’t mandated… but city officials say they’re learning first
hand that it’s a much better use of space in the city.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Lawsuit Targets Lead Paint Makers

The Environmental Protection Agency took aim at lead back in
the 1970’s banning its use in gasoline and house paint. Those actions
significantly reduced lead exposure. But the EPA still ranks lead
poisoning as one of the top environmental health concerns for children.
Now, one state is trying a new approach to deal with the problem… an
approach inspired by the recent tobacco settlements. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: