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Jun 13 2013

NYIT Energy Conference: Climate Change, Extreme Weather, and Energy Implications

Cynthia Rosenzweig

Old Westbury, NY  (June 13, 2013) – Science, disaster, and energy experts at New York Institute of Technology’s annual energy conference today agreed that extreme weather will continue to disrupt lives around the world, with severe social, political, and economic implications.
Keynote speakers and panelists focused on the impact of climate change on communities and interdependent infrastructure systems, especially electricity. Rising sea levels are expected to affect coastal communities and weather patterns will produce more extreme storms of greater intensity and duration in the coming years, the experts agreed, putting many more people in danger. Many of the speakers presented striking images of crippled transportation networks, submerged vehicles, and widespread damage to homes and facilities.
“We have to frame it as a risk management issue,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, Ph.D., a climatologist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, who detailed New York City’s new $20 billion proposal to protect the city with new floodwalls, levees, and surge barriers. “Hurricane Sandy and our response to it is a tipping point for responding to climate change in our nation and the world.”
Rosenzweig said sea levels in the New York City area have risen about a foot since 1900 and are expected to rise another one or two feet in just under 40 years, a scenario that will change lives and topography. 
“Climate risks are increasing, regardless of why," she said. "Everyone needs to respond to them.” 
The conference was the eighth annual gathering of energy experts convened by a faculty committee from the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences. During the conference, Associate Professor Sarah Meyland, a conference organizer and director of NYIT's Center for Water Resources Management, was interviewed for several news segments broadcast by Fios1News, including the Richard French Show (her interview begins at 2:40).
National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., a native Long Islander, said his agency wants to improve weather forecasts as well as “weather decision services” that can help prevent widespread disasters by informing people in greater detail about impending storms.
“How you communicate with people in a major disaster and get them to react is a major science in itself,” said Uccellini. 
Uccellini said the United States is more vulnerable to extreme weather events than any other country in the world. But national forecasting capabilities are improving, he said, through “next-generation” equipment, mapping, and modeling technologies, all of which helped provide accurate forecasts of Sandy’s wrath on the East Coast.
“The Weather Service is making historic strides in predicting extreme events five to eight days in advance and we’re doing it consistently,” he said, adding that those efforts will help make the nation more resilient to the effects of weather.
Susanna Hoffman, Ph.D., a disaster anthropologist, presented an historical and cultural perspective of disasters, vulnerable populations, and our response to disruptive events like storms and earthquakes.
“People want to go back to where they were and they will go back over and over again,” Hoffman said. “They all say: ‘We will rebuild’ but it will never go back quite the way it was before.”
Hoffman’s provocative presentation raised issues about how the media, government, corporations, and victims define disasters – definitions that play into recovery, reconstruction, and future mitigation.
The conference also featured energy storage and electric grid experts, all of whom agreed that the public and private sectors are working to develop more reliable systems in the face of recent problems. Those solutions include wind, solar, and storage technologies and so-called “microgrid” power systems, whose small-scale approach leads to better management of power generation and consumption. 
“The electrical grid is a giant balancing act,” said William Acker, Ph.D., executive director of New York Battery & Energy Storage Technology Consortium. “We have a huge issue with peak demand in New York State.”
Conference experts noted major challenges to the improvements.
“We need public buy-in for all of this,” said Rae Zimmerman, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure at NYU. “Do we have public buy-in for critical infrastructure?”
Noting the clustered locations of oil refineries and cellphone sites, as well as the fact that 7% of community water supplies serve half the nation’s population, Zimmerman cautioned about the concentration of our infrastructure and our vulnerability to problems. 
“We have built into society things that are accidents waiting to happen,” she said. “Decentralized infrastructure is really the way to go.” 
Among the presenters was Daniel Horn, a recent graduate of NYIT’s School of Architecture & Design and co-chair of a global design competition to generate ideas about new ways to build strong coastal communities. More than 180 teams from 25 countries have already expressed interest in submitting designs for the 3C Competition.
Horn presented his own thesis project to the conference attendees: a design for a public building and recreational space for Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, complete with passive locks to raise or lower water levels and concrete construction that could withstand flooding.
“If we have to build on the water, how can we do it in a resilient way?” Horn asked.
About NYIT
New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) offers 90 degree programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees, in more than 50 fields of study, including architecture and design; arts and sciences; education; engineering and computing sciences; health professions; management; and osteopathic medicine. A non-profit independent, private institution of higher education, NYIT has 14,000 students attending campuses on Long Island and Manhattan, online, and at its global campuses. NYIT sponsors 11 NCAA Division II programs and one Division I team.
Led by President Edward Guiliano, NYIT is guided by its mission to provide career-oriented professional education, offer access to opportunity to all qualified students, and support applications-oriented research that benefits the larger world. To date, more than 95,000 graduates have received degrees from NYIT. For more information, visit
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