Professors Ellen Douglas (left) and Paul Kirshen (right), School for the Environment, overlooking Dorchester Bay
Image by: Bob Durling
Boston is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including coastal storms, rising sea levels, flooding, and extreme heat. By 2070, the ocean could rise as much as three feet from its year-2000 level, according to a 2016 report from City Hall’s Climate Ready Boston initiative. That outcome could expose more than 88,000 Boston residents to flooding that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, and it could cause an estimated $1.39 billion in annualized losses from property damage, relocation costs, and other factors, the report projected.
UMass Boston researchers are integral to the city’s climate change preparedness. For more than a decade, Ellen Douglas and Paul Kirshen, professors in the School for the Environment, have been working with the City of Boston and other coastal communities to address vulnerability to coastal flooding and to develop climate resilient strategies. Most recently, Douglas and Kirshen led the Boston Research Advisory Group (BRAG), which evaluated the climate change impacts specific to Boston. The BRAG report initiated and informed the city’s Climate Ready Boston strategies. In addition, among other publications, they co-authored Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessments and Adaptation Options for the Central Artery and Preparing for the Rising Tide, highly influential reports. Douglas and Kirshen are currently expanding their research for a broader climate report encompassing the Greater Boston area, collaborating with UMass Boston’s Urban Harbors Institute and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Building infrastructure to protect against climate change can be speculative and expensive, and UMass Boston researchers have helped distinguish promising ideas from boondoggles. Harbor walls are gaining popularity worldwide as a way to mitigate storm surges and flooding. Kirshen led a study concluding last year that the billions of dollars and decades of construction required for a harbor barrier would not be practical for Boston.