Bringing satellite observations and climate projections together with key data collected on the ground helps cities better anticipate geophysical hazards and adapt to climate change.
In November 2016, 10 scientists, engineers, and officials from Rio de Janeiro City Hall visited NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York and received specialized training on urban heat islands, sea level rise, and water quality. At the workshop, Rio officials and NASA scientists learned from each other’s operational experiences.
The first day’s presentations outlined several efforts by Rio de Janeiro and New York to help city planners face current and future challenges. A talk discussed Rio’s sophisticated Operations Center, which monitors many aspects of the city’s operations, including traffic, crime, and weather. Another outlined New York’s efforts to strengthen its climate resilience, for example, by building new coastal defenses at Jamaica Bay. Further talks highlighted NASA’s range of Earth science products with applications for situational awareness and decision support, as well as efforts of the Urban Climate Change Research Network’s (UCCRN) Latin American Hub in Rio.
A science policy roundtable, which included representatives from Rio City Hall, the city of New York, NASA GISS, and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (a global network of megacities committed to addressing climate change), focused on the applicability of Earth observations to support cities’ climate resilience efforts. Remote sensing data sets (e.g., precipitation) and climate projections were deemed to be valuable tools. For decision-making at the city level, however, participants noted that global data sets and projections must be paired with high-resolution in situ measurements and local knowledge.
The second day of the workshop consisted of concurrent training sessions on the workshop’s three main themes. NASA technical experts presented summaries of new research and introduced relevant data sets and resources. In the session on urban heat islands, participants learned about the effects of different surfaces on air temperature, as well as the impacts of green infrastructure on the urban environment. In the session on sea level rise, participants learned that sea level is rising by approximately 3 millimeters per year in the New York area, reflecting a combination of the warming ocean and long-term glacial adjustment. Rising sea level has major consequences for coastal cities, including accelerated erosion, saltwater intrusion, and more frequent “nuisance” street flooding. In the session on water quality, presenters discussed the challenges of studying ocean ecology and monitoring water quality with remote sensing. The presenters noted that several planned satellite missions, such as NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) and the joint Argentinian-Brazilian Satellite of Environmental Information of the Sea (SABIA-Mar), are expected to provide high-quality measurements, particularly in coastal zones.
On the last day of the workshop, the group visited areas of Lower Manhattan affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Participants saw the high-water mark of the storm surge generated by the hurricane, well above the boardwalk at Battery Park. Seeing the affected areas emphasized the need for coastal cities to continue their preparations for further sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events. A Facebook Live event at Battery Park highlighted the NASA-Rio partnership and featured several of the workshop participants.
Advancing climate resilience through city partnerships requires strong leadership and sustained communication. Rio de Janeiro plans to leverage NASA Earth observations and models, as well as international networks like UCCRN, to develop city-specific sea level rise projections, disaster response plans, and water quality monitoring.
A full workshop summary and description of the NASA–Rio de Janeiro partnership are available at a dedicated NASA-Rio partnership Web page.
—Margaret M. Hurwitz (email: [email protected]), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; also at Science Systems and Applications, Inc., Greenbelt, Md.; Felipe Mandarino, Instituto Pereira Passos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Dalia B. Kirschbaum, Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.