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

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

Study Identifies Epicenters of Extinction

Extinction is a natural process. But scientists point out that humans have sped that process up. A new study maps out the places on Earth where species are in the greatest danger of going extinct. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports:

Transcript

Extinction is a natural process, but scientists point out that humans have
sped that process up. A new study maps out the places on earth where
species are in the greatest danger of going extinct. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports:


Conservation biologists are most concerned about endangered animals and
plants that are confined to just one location on earth, such as one
mountaintop, one lake, or one farm.


A new study finds there are close to 800 endangered species worldwide that
are found in single remaining sites.


Taylor Ricketts is the lead author of the study published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He says historically, most
extinctions have been on islands, but the species at risk now are found more
often on the mainlands.


“And I think that’s because our footprint on the mainlands has just grown,
and our habitat conversion of a lot of these places has intensified so much
that even the not particularly susceptible species are beginning to be
threatened with extinction.”


Ricketts says two thirds of these isolated sites don’t have full legal
protection. He points out it’s hard to protect species that are on land
with competing uses, such as agriculture, timber harvest or houses.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

White House Pushes for Wilderness Designation

  • When "opportunities for wilderness" knock, will Congress answer? (Photo by Jake Levin)

The Bush Administration is recommending wilderness protection for a group of 21 islands in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:

Transcript

The Bush Administration is recommending wilderness protection for a group of 21 islands
in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports from
Superior.


This is the first time Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson visited the Apostle Islands
National Lakeshore off the coast of Wisconsin. If Congress goes along with the
Administration’s recommendation, his next visit won’t see much change because much
of the park is already operating as a wilderness area. Manson says critics are wrong
when they say the Bush Administration isn’t protecting wilderness.


“Ultimately, it is up to the Congress to designate wilderness. There are a number of
wilderness proposals pending before the Congress that have been in limbo for a number
of years and Congress has failed to act on them.”


The proposal would keep 80% of the islands a wilderness area… with motorboat access
to the islands, but no motor vehicles allowed on the 21-island group. That’s not enough,
according to Sean Wherley. He’s with the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
He says it’s political grandstanding for a battleground state.


“The fact that now it’s lining up behind a non-controversial piece on the Apostles is
disingenuous and misleading at best. It’s very troubling because they have passed on
opportunities for wilderness across the country.”


So far this Congress hasn’t passed any wilderness designations. If that holds true, it will be
only the second Congress not to do that since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.

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.

Bigger Ships to Steam Into Great Lakes?

  • A freighter navigates the American Narrows in the St. Lawrence River. Expanding the system’s locks and channels would mean even bigger ships could enter the Great Lakes.

A new study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Midwest ports and shippers – and the businesses they work with – stand to gain billions of dollars from an expansion of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system. Building wider locks and deeper channels from Minnesota to Montreal would make way for bigger “container” ships that have become the norm of international trade. But critics say expansion would have dire environmental consequences, and they say the Corps’ study is full of flaws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:

Transcript

A new study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Midwest ports and shippers – and the businesses they work with – stand to gain billions of dollars from an expansion of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system. Building wider locks and deeper channels from Minnesota to Montreal would make way for bigger “container” ships that have become the norm of international trade. But critics say expansion would have dire environmental consequences… and they say the Corps’ study is full of flaws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:


The St. Lawrence Seaway began as a dream – to make the Great Lakes as important a shipping destination as the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico seaboards. In fact, Seaway boosters used to call the Great Lakes the “Fourth Coast” of the United States. But when the array of locks and channels was built in the 1950s, Congress assured East Coast interests that a shipping route between the Atlantic Ocean and America’s heartland wouldn’t hurt their business. Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar:


“The Seaway locks would be built to no greater dimension than the largest inland waterway locks of the 1930’s.”


In other words, the Seaway was outdated before it was built. Today less than thirty percent of the world’s cargo ships can squeeze into the Seaway.


The Army Corps of Engineers’ study is a first step to change that. It says the Seaway could generate up to one and half billion dollars a year more than it is now if larger ships – the ones that carry containers that fit right onto trucks and trains – could reach ports in the Midwest. Oberstar says that would mean an economic boon for Great Lakes states.


“Those are good jobs. Those are longshoreman jobs. And that economic activity means significant business for Great Lakes port cities.”


So along with other politicians and shippers in the Midwest, Oberstar wants the Corps to take the next step – a more detailed study, called a feasibility study – that would look at the nuts and bolts of expansion. It would cost some 20 million dollars.


But downstream, on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York, critics say any plans for expansion have a fatal flaw.


(sounds of water and fueling a boat)


Under a blazing sun in the part of the St. Lawrence River known as the Thousand Islands, Stephanie Weiss fuels up her boat at a gas dock.


(gas filling, and motor starting)


She pushes off and weaves among literally thousands of pine-covered islands that give the region its name.


“You can see how narrow things are and how close the islands are to each other.”


Weiss directs the environmental group Save The River that’s trying to stop Seaway expansion.


(motor slows and stops)


We stop in the part of the river channel called the American Narrows. It’s like the Seaway’s bottleneck. Ocean-going freighters the length of two football fields thread through here. To make room for anything bigger, Weiss says, might mean blasting away some of these islands and the homes perched on them.


“I can’t help noticing that there’s this enormous rock in between the Great Lakes and the Ocean. It’s the Laurentian Shield and it is what makes these islands. To pretend that this is just a coast that needs to be developed is unrealistic.”


Weiss says the idea of a Fourth Coast, with ports like Chicago and Duluth rivaling those of New York and San Francisco, is ridiculous.


Environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada, like Great Lakes United and Great Lakes Water Keepers, are also opposing expansion. And they say the Corps’ study frames the debate unfairly. It doesn’t factor in environmental and social effects the groups say would make the project seem less attractive: things like rising pollution, sensitive wildlife habitat, plummeting water levels. The Corps’ project manager Wayne Shloop says those things would be addressed in the feasibility study. Stopping before that, he says, means letting the system’s locks and channels waste away.


“So somebody needs to make a decision… is it in the federal interest to let the system degrade or is it in the federal interest between the United States and Canada to make some improvements?”


In the U.S., that somebody is Congress. Congress would need to appropriate half of the 20 million dollars for the study. Lawmakers could take up the issue in September.


New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton recently took a boatride down the American Narrows to learn more. She disembarked with questions, about oil spills, accidents, and the hazards of winter navigation.


“This isn’t by any means an easy decision, a cost-free decision, that there are tremendous consequences associated with it, so give me your pictures, give me your information, because I’ll use it to be in conversations with people who think it’s just an open and shut issue.”


The issue will be shut rather quickly if the Corps’ study can’t persuade Canada to join in. Canada would have to foot the other half of the bill for the feasibility study. But officials from Transport Canada say they’re in the “very preliminary stages” of studying the issue. And they’re listening to everyone from shippers to environmentalists to recreational boaters before they make a decision.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.