Daily Archives: April 13, 2018

Boston Living with Water


Living with water, as a threat and a friend | Boston Society of Architects

by Jay Wickersham FAIA / March 8, 2018

Image courtesy of Boston Harbor Now.

On March 2 a gale flooded parts of downtown Boston for the second time this winter. The BSA had to close BSA Space at Atlantic Wharf; an AquaFence system of mobile flood walls was set up as a barricade around the building.

BSA Space was lucky to survive the third-highest tide in Boston’s recorded history without damage. The waters of the Fort Point Channel didn’t quite reach our building. Others in the Boston region weren’t so lucky. Alongside images of waves crashing into beachfront houses, we saw repeat of the images from the January gale: downtown streets and parks turned into rivers and lakes; buildings standing as marooned islands in East Boston and the Long Wharf and the North End.

Scientists have been warning us of these flood threats for decades. Our buildings and our economy run on carbon. That carbon is slowly, almost imperceptibly, causing the global climate to warm and the seas to rise. When a storm hits, those tiny changes become big and visible and potentially devastating to a coastal city like Boston.

…(read more).

A Boston Harbor sea barrier isn’t crazy talk anymore – The Boston Globe

The waves in Boston Harbor quickly rose last Friday amid a nor’easter.
By Jon Chesto Globe Staff March 07, 2018

Walling off Boston Harbor doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

After watching chilly seawater lap at downtown doorsteps and turn Winthrop and Quincy neighborhoods into archipelagos last weekend, local leaders probably won’t dismiss a giant harbor barrier as crazy talk.

A team of researchers led by UMass-Boston’s Sustainable Solutions Lab has been studying the pros and cons of such a project, thanks to $360,000 from the Barr Foundation, and plans to release the results in April.

By Jon Chesto Globe Staff March 07, 2018

Walling off Boston Harbor doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

After watching chilly seawater lap at downtown doorsteps and turn Winthrop and Quincy neighborhoods into archipelagos last weekend, local leaders probably won’t dismiss a giant harbor barrier as crazy talk.

A team of researchers led by UMass-Boston’s Sustainable Solutions Lab has been studying the pros and cons of such a project, thanks to $360,000 from the Barr Foundation, and plans to release the results in April.

Paul Kirshen, the lab’s director, says his team focused on two alternatives. One would be a massive, three-plus mile barrier stretching from Deer Island to Hull, with two gates for the President Roads and Nantasket Roads channels. These gates could swing shut in times of extreme storms. The other option would be a much smaller wall between Logan Airport and the South Boston Waterfront, with one gate. Both require on-shore work as well, such as barriers to block the displaced water. Kirshen says neither alternative should significantly affect Boston’s natural tides.

These projects would obviously cost billions. Think Big Dig, Part 2. Design and permitting could take a decade, and Kirshen says construction might not be done until 2050.

Shorter term, smaller fixes are already underway. Boston officials started advancing plans to build an East Boston Greenway flood wall and raise part of Charlestown’s Main Street. GE’s future headquarters is designed to withstand floods like the one that just overtook Fort Point; other companies may take similar approaches.

The Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a coalition of business and civic leaders charged with reacting to climate change, needs to consider the full range of options. At one point, many of us thought these floods wouldn’t hit us for at least another decade. Not anymore.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto and on Twitter @jonchesto.

Session Proposal: At The Edge: Coastal Science Supporting Community Resilience (2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting)


Session Description:

Coastal [human] communities face ever-increasing challenges that impact their use of, and reliance upon, the ocean. These challenges include changing ocean conditions, such as ocean acidification and hypoxia that threaten coastal ecosystems and harvested fisheries, and physical threats such as rising sea levels, increased erosion, and catastrophic events (e.g., severe storms, tsunamis) that can directly and indirectly impact human communities and ocean resources. The current increasing rate of change of environmental (see above) and social (e.g., changing demographics, industries) conditions is undermining the resilience and adaptability of coastal communities. As such, these communities have a vested interest in identifying and informing relevant scientific questions. Applied research efforts, such as those supported by the Sea Grant program (US and international) and other entities, often benefit significantly from community input. This input allows for targeted exploration of key questions and a clearer pathway for application of research results. This session will highlight projects that examine key ocean and coastal resource questions that impact coastal communities, especially projects which have benefited from community engagement during the scientific investigation.


14-mile dike could protect Greater Boston from sea level rise – CommonWealth Magazine

Barrier would run from Cohasset to Swampscott

Peter Papesch, Franziska Amacher and A. Vernon Woodworth Jan 13, 2018

A RECENT story in the Boston Globe, with the headline “Floods seen as warning of Boston’s future,” described how sea level rise and storm surge effects predicted for later in the century made their appearance during last week’s bomb cyclone. The article also mentioned various studies on what to do about sea level rise planned or underway by the city of Boston, its Green Ribbon Commission, and the University of Massachusetts.

We submit that the options explored by these studies share a glaring deficit – Boston and adjacent metropolitan cities and towns will not be completely protected. Because these municipalities are located in the metropolitan Boston estuary (the outlet for the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset Rivers, among others), nearly every option studied so far will be circumvented by higher sea levels and storm surges via Revere and Lynn to the north and via Nantasket Beach to the south. The studies also ignore river flooding altogether.

We offer a more ambitious protective option than any proposed so far by the local governments of the metro Boston estuary. We call it Metro Boston DikeLANDS, and we believe it is more practical and creative and has the potential to provide a significant return on the enormous investment required, unlike the other options discussed.

The metropolitan Boston estuary is uniquely different from many others around the nation. It is protected on its flanks by the shoulder highlands of Swampscott and Cohasset. The Metro Boston DikeLANDS proposal takes advantage of the estuary’s unique geological characteristics.

Our idea is an expansion of one proposed originally by Antonio DiMambro when he won the 1988 Boston Society of Architects competition. We propose building a 14-mile dike barrier between the shoulder highlands of Cohasset and Swampscott. The dike would be located some eight miles out from Deer Island, complete with residential and commercial developments, windmills, solar collector farms, and recreational areas. A simple dike barrier with a 200-foot-wide top and reaching 120 feet from seafloor to storm-surge top would require some 246 million cubic yards of material. Bi-directional locks could provide access for all crafts, protecting Boston’s commercial activity and its waterfront integrity.

The new dike system will prevent storm tides from inundating the entire metropolitan estuary while allowing rivers to discharge their water into a harbor reservoir capable of holding more than 10 billion gallons of river-fed water. The gradual transformation of the reservoir into a fresh-water lake could permit it to act as a source of fresh water for the drinking water needs of southeastern Massachusetts communities. The drinking water supplies of those communities are increasingly threatened by rising sea levels, which are making groundwater increasingly brackish.

By lowering the reservoir level to half the current tidal range, the cherished Boston Harbor Islands and their recreational potential would be protected. (With the new dike system, however, the islands eventually would be surrounded by fresh water rather than sea water.)

At a cost of $100 per cubic yard, with two bi-directional shipping locks of $500 million each (plus soft and contingency costs), this macro-engineering and macro-economic project would probably cost between $30 billion and $50 billion. The 200-foot wide top of the 14-mile stretch would create 68 acres of new dike lands, which in turn would need to be supported by a complete infrastructure system of water, sewer, electricity, and transportation (high-speed mag-lev trains to connect the north and south shores without going through downtown are a possibility). New all-electric buildings would become the customers for renewable energy provided by new windmills, which would take advantage of the offshore winds, and solar-tracking photovoltaic installations.

In many respects, the Metro Boston DikeLANDS proposal would bring economic as well as ecological sea change parameters in line with the resiliency required to meet the challenges of rising sea levels and climate change impacts.

A project of this scope requires major public as well as private support to overcome all the foreseeable environmental changes and regulatory obstacles to such a large project. The project could help pay for itself if the newly-created, flat-top area of the dike, amounting to some 68 acres, was sold as waterfront property at between $3 and $7 million per acre. That would raise between $100 billion and $400 billion (after return on invested capital) and possibly more if the dike’s landward slope facing the metro Boston estuary were also developed for terraced housing. Still more money could be raised if additional expansion zones or peninsulas were created along the dike barrier.

…(read more).

“Preparing for the Rising Tide” by Ellen Douglas, Paul Kirshen et al.


llen Douglas, University of Massachusetts BostonFollow
Paul Kirshen
Vivian Li
Chris Watson
Julie Wormser

Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



On October 29, 2012, one of the largest Atlantic basin storms in recorded history hit the East Coast. Although Superstorm Sandy centered around New Jersey and New York when it made landfall, the massive storm system spanned 1,000 miles north to south, over three times the size of a typical hurricane.

Luckily for Boston, Sandy’s storm surge hit the city near low tide, causing relatively minor coastal flooding. Had the storm hit 5½ hours earlier, 6.6 percent of the city could have been flooded, with floodwaters reaching City Hall.

Events such as Superstorm Sandy highlight the growing relevance of climate change and draw attention to the importance of taking steps today to be prepared for the likely events of tomorrow. Preparing for the Rising Tide provides policy makers, planners and property owners with site-specific examples of how to assess vulnerability and increase resilience to coastal flooding over time.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes.” Vulnerability assessments focus action on highly sensitive populations, locations and infrastructure.

Preparedness plans need to be robust enough to handle any future condition, and/or flexible enough change over time to meet needs as they arise. Ideally they include “no-regret” and co-benefit” solutions that extend beyond flood control goals. Cost-effective preparedness plans will result in both “here and now” and “prepare and monitor” actions based on threshold triggers such as sea level rise.

Previous reports have described a range of large-scale adaptation strategies. This report takes those recommendations and applies them to specific properties in Boston. Some cities such as Seattle, WA and Charleston, SC are developing “floodable zones” that preserve the city’s access to its waterfront while minimizing damage when periodic flooding occurs. This concept of “living with water” is an option to consider in Boston as well.


The full report, including maps, press releases, and related media, are available from the Boston Harbor Association: http://www.tbha.org/preparing-rising-tide-report.

Recommended Citation

Douglas, Ellen; Kirshen, Paul; Li, Vivian; Watson, Chris; and Wormser, Julie, “Preparing for the Rising Tide” (2013). Environmental, Earth, and Ocean Sciences Faculty Publication Series. 3.

Additional Files
preparing_for_the_rising_tide_executive_summary_final.pdf (805 kB)
Executive Summary: Preparing for the Rising Tide


Boston Harbor Association

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Climate Change Resiliency – MassDOT Highway

The Unit supports MassDOT’s goals of reducing transportation vulnerabilities and adapting infrastructure for current and future climate change impacts. Please see below for more information on our resiliency projects.

Central Artery and Tunnel Pilot Project

The Central Artery/ Tunnel (CA/T) Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment, completed in June 2015, created the hydrodynamic Boston Harbor Flood Risk Model (BH-FRM) to identify risk and depth of water resulting from storm surge-induced coastal flooding in the City of Boston under current and future sea level rise and storm surge. Based on the CA/T system’s high sensitivity to flooding and little redundancy built into it, the CA/T study recommended conceptual level adaptation strategies for current and future time horizons. Please see the Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability and Adaptation Options for the Central Artery/Tunnel System (Pilot Project Report) for more details on the study, and below for the CA/T Study Mapping Products.

MassDOT is currently considering the recommendations presented in the report. However, in order to supply adaptation measures sooner, MassDOT is developing an alternate strategy to provide protection to 2030.

CA/T Study Mapping Products

The CA/T Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment team developed Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability Maps and Estimated Flood Depth Maps for the 2013, 2030 and 2070/2100 climate scenarios. These maps are not meant for design use and are provided to the public via the links below for discussion and research purposes only. The maps represent Version 3 of the BH-FRM model output and include updates in four specific areas: Allston, Morrissey Boulevard, Prudential Tunnel (I-90/MassPike) and Muddy River. Additionally, data quality checks were performed throughout the domain resulting in minor changes from Version 2. As from time to time MassDOT will update the BH-FRM, the user is encouraged to revisit MassDOT’s website for up to date information.

All users must read this disclaimer before accessing the Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability Maps and the Estimated Flood Depth Maps.

View our Frequently Asked Questions about the model for more information about the products.

Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability Maps

The Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability Maps show the likelihood that a location within the BH-FRM domain will be flooded by 2 or more inches of water encroaching on the land surface at a particular location in any given year. Exceedance probabilities range from 0.1% (probability associated with the 1000-year water surface elevation) to 100% (probability associated with the highest annual tide). Details of map development and modeling approaches can be found in the Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability and Adaptation Options for the Central Artery/Tunnel System (Pilot Project Report).

Estimated Flood Depth Maps

The Estimated Flood Depth Maps show the anticipated depth of flood water in areas affected by the 100-and 1000-year water surface elevation under the 2013, 2030 and 2070/2100 climate scenarios. While the Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability Maps above show the probability that an area will be flooded, the Estimated Flood Depth Maps provided below show depths of flooding.

1% Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability (CFEP)

0.1% Coastal Flood Exceedance Probability (CFEP)

Additional Resiliency Projects Underway

The Deerfield River Watershed Vulnerability Assessment is evaluating the vulnerability of road-stream crossings within the Deerfield River Watershed to climate change. The assessment includes analyses of hydraulic and geomorphic failure risks under current and future climate conditions, potential impacts to emergency services, and opportunities for the enhancement of aquatic organism passage. Through this innovative and multi-disciplinary approach, the study team will create a prioritization and decision making tool that can be used during MassDOT’s project planning and development process. This tool will facilitate a proactive approach to upgrading vulnerable structures, in place of the current event-driven reactive approach. This project is scheduled to be completed in December 2016.

The Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment is refining the state-of-the-art Boston Harbor Flood Risk Model (BH-FRM) and extending it to the entire Massachusetts coastline to identify transportation assets vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge. This project will evaluate impacts associated with the current year, 2030, 2050, and 2070/2100 climate scenarios and recommend conceptual-level adaptation strategies, considering both natural and built protection measures. This project is scheduled to be completed in December 2017.

Additional State and Federal Climate Change Adaptation Resources:

  • Steven.J.Miller