Posts tagged with "Environment":

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Colorful Carbon Footprint Maps Illustrates Energy Usage Trends

University of California, Berkeley has released a new set of interactive maps illustrating national energy usage.  The visually striking if troubling images reveal a stark urban/suburban divide regarding carbon footprint, with the latter contributing far more in emissions than their city-dwelling counterparts. Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint (Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network (2013) The maps were produced as part of the school's CoolClimate Network.  The three correspond to average annual household carbon footprints, household energy carbon footprint, and vehicle miles traveled respectively. Hovering your mouse over a particular region allows for a more detailed breakdown of the three categories.  The data suggests an inverse relationship between population density and carbon footprint size, which is to say that more densely populated cities tend to be more energy efficient. A further look at the numbers suggests that much of this correlation can be explained by the high transportation costs pervasive in suburbia. Average Household Energy Carbon Footprint (Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network (2013) Yet before New Yorkers or any other urbanites grow too smug, the net effect of this relationship may be largely null.  The denser cities that demonstrate a relatively lower carbon footprint tend to be the very areas that  spawn the extensive suburbs possessing problematically higher ones. The correspondence between usage and population density is not applicable when only suburbs are taken into account, and in fact the opposite correlation tends to be true. Researches claimed that this finding can be explained largely by economic factors. Curious users can see how their household stacks up against their own neighbors or any other region in the country by filling out the Network's CoolClimate Carbon Footprint Calculator. Average Vehicle Miles Traveled by Zip Code (Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network (2013)
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Northerly Island to Soon Become Lake Michigan Oasis

Gazing at Chicago from the east, it’s impossible to ignore the city’s towering skyline. But the latest gem on the southwest shores of Lake Michigan won’t be made from glass and steel—it’s prairie grass and wetlands. Northerly Island, a 91-acre peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan just south of the Loop, was promised a visionary makeover from Studio Gang and landscape architects JJR in 2010. Now the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are preparing to break ground this fall. The plan is to cultivate six distinct ecosystems throughout the park, to the tune of $6.65 million. From oak savannah to deep-water lagoon with underwater vegetation, the Corps will open each area of the island as it is completed. While the project includes a concert pavilion and will still house the Adler Planetarium, Northerly Island is imagined as an oasis for nature in a state that has eradicated nearly all of the tallgrass prairie for which it was nicknamed.  It’s a deferential vision of environment as architecture. Formerly home to the Meigs Field airstrip, the manmade “island” (it’s connected to the shore by a small causeway) was planned by Daniel Burnham as the northernmost in a string of five islands extending south to Jackson Park. It was the only one actually built. While work may begin soon on Northerly’s latest transformation, the plan calls for 20-30 years of development and ecological rehabilitation. The first portion—the island’s southern half—may be open for use within five years.
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Tracking the Health of New York's Rivers One Raindrop at a Time

Courtesy Riverkeeper
In May 2011, a shocking 80 percent of the 59 water samples taken from various sites in the Hudson River were determined to be unacceptable by the Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving water quality on the Hudson River. What makes water “unacceptable”? Sampled sites are tested for enterococcus, a human pathogen often found in sewage that can potentially cause health problems like Meningitis and urinary tract infection. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Enterococcus count standards vary for different sites (for beaches, state governments discourage swimming if the count is over 35 colony forming units per 100ml). As for the part of Hudson River bordering New York City, an enterococcus count greater than 104 units per 100mL is considered "unacceptable." And, quite frankly, gross. This year, according to Riverkeeper's latest water quality report from May, only 12 percent of the sampling sites were unacceptable and 7 percent were diagnosed with possible risk. The enterococcus count along the East River at 23rd Street was reported to be a mere 10 units per 100ml. What has caused the seemingly huge increase in water quality around New York City? It appears this year's gains were a meteorological fluke caused by differences in weather over the two years. Frequent rainy weather during May 2011 caused stormwater to overwhelm the city's sewer system creating a condition known as Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). The excess rainwater present during a CSO causes raw sewage to be discharged into nearby bodies of water. This year, May was relatively dry, leaving the sewer systems intact and the enterococcus levels low. In effort to avoid such leakages caused by stormwater, a new plan for gray and green infrastructure with over $5 billion in funding was implemented in April, 2012. The plan calls for green and blue roofs to capture and store stormwater, allowing it to slowly seep into the sewers rather than overwhelming them all at once. Specially-designed plant beds, rain gardens, and tree pits with engineered soil and water-loving plants also hold water, filtering it and absorbing pollutants. While New York dodged a sewage-filled bullet this year, this initiative promoting innovative rainwater management infrastructure could help achieve sustained water quality increases in years to come.