Visualizing Climate Change, Take Two! Teens Use SciViz Techniques to Explore Threats of Sea-level Rise in New York City

Our youth program, Visualizing Climate Change, offered in the fall of 2014, was such a success that we decided to offer the data visualization program again, but under a new name—Mapping Disasters. This time around it was important to expand the focus of the course from disaster preparedness in New York City to the threats of sea-level rise. Because the temporary exhibit, Nature’s Fury, is no longer at AMNH, the course focused on the permanent Climate Change exhibit in our Hall of Planet Earth, artifacts from The Hall of Pacific Peoples, and the work taking place the Marshall Islands by Jenny Newell, curator of Pacific Ethnography. CartoDB, a powerful online data visualization tool, was once again a major component of the program. The youth used CartoDB and coastal flood zone datasets to explore their own questions related to the impacts of Climate Change and sea-level rise on New York City.

They explored how warming oceans, melting ice sheets and rising seas affect daily life around the world and in New York City while learning about different types of data, how to read data tables, and how data tables are translated into visualizations. Working in CartoDB allowed the youth to explore datasets that were of particular interest to them, stylize their own maps, and gain hands-on experience in what goes into making a useful data visualization versus one that is confusing or misleading.

For their final projects the youth worked in groups with 100-year flood zone and future flood zone data, to create stylized maps illustrating the effect of rising seas on major local infrastructure. In their final projects each of the groups focused on the infrastructures at risk and the challenges facing one of these six vulnerable neighborhoods in New York City: Coney Island, Rockaway Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, and the Lower East Side. Below are excerpts from each of their reports and the visualizations created using CartoDB.

According to the current and future 100 year flood zones, Coney Island is very vulnerable to flooding, vulnerabilities that were exposed during Hurricane Sandy, in October 2013. During this superstorm local businesses, homes, and amusement parks located on the coast of Coney Island were decimated. Looking at the 100 yr. flood zone data, 60,000 more buildings will be added to this list of infrastructure that is at risk for future flooding including Fire and Police Departments and schools. The maps below show the Fire and Police departments and the schools that are in current flood zones as well as those projected to be in 2050 flood zones.

Coney Island Fire and Police Departments Map

Coney Island Schools Map

Rockaway Park, location on the peninsula of Rockaways is a neighborhood within the borough of Queens and is naturally vulnerable to the impact of sea level rise. The neighborhood has many houses and businesses and also is home to the A train and Shuttle subway lines.  According to the 100-year flood zones, all government funded housing projects in Rockaway Park will be subject to flooding, an especially distressing reality for the Rockaway community in poverty. These housing projects are shown in green on the map below. Rising sea levels will also take a huge toll on the public school system in this area as all the schools in Rockaway Park are vulnerable to flooding in the next 100 years as shown in our map below:

Red Hook is an area that is extremely susceptible to natural disasters and flooding that will result from sea level rise. During Hurricane Sandy this neighborhood experienced three to six feet of flooding, loss of heat, hot water, and electricity for several days to weeks after the storm and many mechanical systems were left damaged. The maps below, “Red Hook School and Health facilities” show current and future flood zones in Red Hook, as well as the schools and hospitals located within these flood zones to demonstrate the impact that sea level rise will have on the educational and healthcare resources and facilities in this under resourced neighborhood. Without immediate action, a huge percentage of Red Hook’s area would be submerged in water and uninhabitable by 2050.

Dumbo has become one of the costliest neighborhoods in the city because of the beautiful scenery and remarkable art. However, as our 100-year flood map shows, the piers just out from the shore and the Brooklyn Navy Yard that have many parks or open areas built on top of them, are vulnerable to flooding. Located at the Navy Yard is a CoGeneration power plant that supplies energy to several thousand Brooklynites as well as portions of Manhattan. The Navy Yard works to promote local economic development and job creation, develop underutilized areas and oversee modernization while maintaining historical integrity. The Yard is a non-profit organization that now houses over 330 industrial tenants and employs more than 6,400 people. Both of these facilities will be submerged if the flood projections are correct.

Our second map shows the locations of many popular tourist attractions in Dumbo including Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pearl Street Triangle, Jane’s Carousel, Pop Up Pool, and the Archway under Manhattan Bridge. If flooding were to occur as predicted, these attractions will be damaged leading to a decrease in the number of tourists to this area, and these attractions may eventually be closed due to the damages.

The Lower East Side has been a neighborhood of constant change due to immigration.  During the height of immigration 3,00-5,000 immigrants arrived at Ellis Island daily, and many of them established in mini-neighborhoods on the Lower East Side. Today, the eastern portion of the neighborhood is susceptible to flooding from the East River and was heavily impacted by flooding, leading to extensive power outages, during Hurricane Sandy. 167,082 residence were left without power, heat, or a home.  Our maps focus on the essential facilities of schools and hospitals which serve the most vulnerable residents in this neighborhood. Our maps show that many schools already exist in the current flood zone and will continue to be vulnerable to flooding in future which would cause thousands of students to be displaced to other schools leading to overcrowding in the school system.

LES Schools and Flood Zones

Our second map shows the location of health centers and hospitals in relation to the current and future 100 year flood zones.  Luckily all of these major medical centers are located outside of the flood zones.  This map could be used by residents to locate their closest medical facility in times of need.

Lower East Side Hospitals Map


Complete student reports as well as content covered and discussed in the Mapping Disasters program can be found on the program’s Tumblr page.

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