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Climate Change

Incumbent Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro, left, debates challenger Michael Kaplan. Photos by Raymond Janis

By Aidan Johnson

As Election Day nears, residents will decide between two candidates for Town of Brookhaven highway superintendent.

Current highway superintendent, Dan Losquadro (R), and Michael Kaplan (D) took part in an exclusive debate at the TBR office Friday, Oct. 27, tackling issues such as response times, paving schedules and the impact of storms on roads.


Losquadro has served as highway superintendent for almost 11 years but has held public office for roughly two decades.

He started out after winning a special election in 2003 for Suffolk County’s 6th Legislative District. After serving two years in the Legislature, his colleagues elected him to be the Republican Conference Leader at age 33. He gave the rebuttals to Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s (D) State of the County address at that time.

He moved on to serve in the New York State Assembly but preferred staying home with his family. After people started lobbying him to replace former Highway Superintendent John Rouse (D), Losquadro decided to do so, citing his past work in his father’s body shop and as a laborer with Local 66 as what trained him for the job.

Kaplan has had 30 years of experience in municipal highway departments, serving 20 years in Islip and 10 years in Huntington. During that time, he served as a laborer, road inspector and worked directly for the superintendent of highways in Huntington. Additionally, he has served as a union leader and is a U.S. Army veteran.

While Kaplan indicated he did not want to speak negatively about Losquadro, he said that he has differing opinions on how to run the department and that there have been “a lot of residents” who have told him that they wish to see the superintendent more often.

Functions of the office

Losquadro said that the “umbrella of the Highway Department is much larger than people realize.” It is not just about the care of the roads but includes areas such as the traffic safety division for the town, engineering where all highway work permits go through, stormwater management and street lighting.

Losquadro runs a budget of more than $110 million, has nearly 300 employees, oversees 3,500 lane miles of roads and believes in innovation for moving the department forward, citing his digitizing of the work order system along with the conversion of all of Brookhaven’s street lights to LEDs, with Brookhaven’s energy savings being up to $1.2 million a year. 

He has also brought in over $150 million from the state and federal grant funding to the town, including a $16 million grant to replace the Sheep Pasture Road bridge in Port Jefferson Station earlier this year.

Kaplan stated that Losquadro touched on a lot of the functions. However, he said that after knocking on thousands of doors, he has a different perspective on how the Highway Department should be run daily.

Kaplan said that the workforce needs to be built back up, both in the sense that it is not enough and because it is demoralized. While he noted Losquadro has done a good job, Kaplan also stated that there are many residents who are frustrated with a perceived lack of accessibility and poor response time within the department, along with people not receiving an answer to their concerns.

As the head of the department, Kaplan said he would be talking to the employees and residents “every single day” and explain to them the answer to their problems, “whether they like my answer or not.” Kaplan also believes that he has to have a staff with the same vision of public service and that while the employees come first, “it’s really all about the residents.”

Losquadro rebutted this, saying he is “as hands-on as it gets” for a highway superintendent and that he and his staff deal with residents “day in, day out.” However, he said that one of the problems is that some people will call other local officials if they do not like the answer the Highway Department gives them, and claim that they did not get a response. However, the electronic work order system can show that the department has been in touch. While they sometimes miss the mark, he indicated, they still strive to contact every person promptly.

Climate change

With climate change increasing the threat of environmental disasters, including major snowfall events, Kaplan believes that it is imperative to build up private contractors.

Kaplan also said that road sweeping is a vital part of conserving the environment because if the road is not swept, everything washes down into the catch and recharge basins, polluting the aquifers. 

While there hasn’t been a big snowstorm in recent years, Kaplan said one big snowfall is enough to remind everyone that what the department does is vital. He also said that there is a science to snow plowing that he would teach every individual what to do behind the wheel of a truck.

Kaplan also said that, with a larger workforce, he would want to have a snow plowing operation that encompasses all of the roads, both main and side, at the same time. 

Losquadro noted that climate change has also caused issues such as roads that were once dry at high tide to now be underwater at normal tide. Because of this, Highways has worked with the Law Department and has abandoned a number of roads.

Due to rising sea levels, Losquadro has been “seeking grants anywhere I can get them.” Currently, the department is raising the roads along Mount Sinai Harbor and doing a massive drainage project there so that the roads remain passable at high tide when water gets impounded in the harbor along the southern shore.

Since there is no capacity for drainage along the southern shore, the department has been acquiring parcels and using them as bioretention areas to make the roads passable. 

Losquadro has also increased the rate paid to snow plow vendors by 25% this year. However, the department is facing a problem that the younger generation of contractors is not getting into the snow plowing business, so is trying to incentivize outside contractors.

Response times

Losquadro elaborated on the electric work order system he put in place, describing how a variant is used during severe weather events, containing “a simple dropdown menu” with which they can put information into quickly.

Additionally, a foreman can use iPads during a work order to take pictures and type in their notes to transmit the information instantly to a customer service representative, who can then relay it back to the resident in cases such as evaluations and inspections.

The department has also added the ability to track all of the road signs in its geographical information system and have added almost 200,000 drains. Losquadro said they “continue to add functionality to the system and build on it” to be more efficient.

While Kaplan said that he respects what Losquadro had to say, if elected, he would go back to the “old school way of doing things” by being a “boots on the ground” superintendent immediately.

If someone calls with a concern, including issues of potholes, Kaplan said he would institute a 72-hour correspondence policy, meaning that the person calling would receive correspondence, such as a callback or email, explaining that their issue has been recognized, and then a time to have it repaired will be scheduled.

Additionally, Kaplan said that potholes would be filled and repaired within 48 hours, and he would reteach his employees how to fill a pothole by his standards.

Politicization claim

In response to claims that Losquadro only begins to fix roads and potholes right before an election, Losquadro considered this notion “absurd.” He further said that the paving season runs from April to November, with someone being first and someone being last during the paving season.

According to the incumbent, they schedule the work based on how much concrete or drainage work has to be performed on a given project, with the jobs that require less work being done in the spring since they can get the prep work done sooner. Anything involving schools is done over the summer so as not to disrupt access to the schools, and the projects done in the fall require more extensive concrete or drainage work.

Losquadro also said that they spend nearly the same amount of money each year, exclusive of grant funding for individual projects, and do not spend more during an election year.

While Kaplan did state that he did make a comment about allegations that Losquadro only begins to fix potholes and roads around election time, he did not mean that as a disrespectful comment toward Losquadro. He had made the comment because residents have told him that they would repeatedly ask for an issue to be addressed, and it would only happen “three months before an election.”

Paving schedules

Kaplan said that he would have a delegation involved in assessing all of the roads in Brookhaven since the highway superintendent could not feasibly do it by themself. He would have the roads rated A through F, with the roads receiving “D” and “F” ratings being placed on the high-priority list.

Losquadro said that prioritizing a roadway isn’t just “necessarily a visual assessment” since there may be cases where the top layer of a road may appear to be in disrepair while the subsurface is still very strong, and vice versa.

If reelected, Losquadro pledged to avail himself of a program offered by the Cornell Cooperative Extension that uses optical sensors to evaluate the condition of the town’s roads to get what he referred to as a “heat map.” 

Losquadro added that he feels that they have gotten through the roads that were in very poor shape that he inherited from the last highway superintendent. He is planning two-to-three years out in the paving schedule, which is why the overall optical evaluation of the roadways would be helpful in how he looks forward at a possible three-to-eight years out from this point.

Brookhaven residents townwide will decide on the Highway Department’s future on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

This graphic shows how per unit water saving by dry cooling increases carbon emissions by each power unit globally, a significant issue for example in areas of India. Qin et al., 2023. Nature Water

Study published in Nature Water suggests integrating planning may reduce carbon emissions in the future

Water scarcity and climate change is a threat to energy security, as carbon emission reduction from water and dry cooling of power plants remains a major challenge worldwide. An international collaboration of scientists including Gang He, PhD, of Stony Brook University, used global power plant data to demonstrate an integrated water-carbon management framework that bridges the gap to coupling diverse water carbon-mitigation technologies with other methods. Their findings are detailed in a paper published in Nature Water.

Thermal electric power generation uses substantial amounts of freshwater primarily for cooling of power plants, amounting to 40 to 50 percent of the total water withdrawal in the U.S. and 40 percent in Europe. Meanwhile, power generation accounted for approximately 36 percent of the energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across world economies in 2019. The authors note that consequently, the power sector has a high dependence on freshwater resources and demonstrates intrinsic water-carbon interconnections that have critical implications on reliable electricity output and energy security, particularly under climate change.

In “Global assessment of the carbon-water tradeoff of dry cooling for thermal power generation,” they conclude such integrated planning is crucial to address the complex interactions between water and energy systems. The team constructed a global unit-level framework to assess the impact of dry cooling—a vital water mitigation strategy—alongside alternative water sourcing and carbon capture and storage (CCS) under different scenarios.

According to He, a co-author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, the research team collected unit-level power plant data, which included basic power generation unit information such as fuel and engine types, installed capacity, cooling technologies and other details. Then they estimated carbon emissions and water withdrawal based on what is known of emission factors at plants and water intensity by the cooling technologies, fuel types and local meteorology.

He says that from their global data the CO2 emission and energy penalty from dry cooling units were found to be location and climate specific, and ranged from 1 to 15 percent of power plant output. Additionally, efficiency losses were high under climate changes scenarios.

On a positive note, the team discovered potentially promising solutions to alleviate water scarcity around the power plants – such as increasing accessibility to wastewater and brine water that can provide viable alternatives to dry cooling and reduce energy and CO2 penalties.

Additionally, He and coauthors concluded that CCS emerged as a valuable tool to offset CO2  emission tradeoffs associated with dry cooling, especially when alternative water sourcing alone is insufficient in certain power plant regions.

However, He stresses that the issue is complicated globally, as CCS could demand more energy and thus more emissions, and wastewater could be useful but has its limitations and may not be available near some power plants.

The authors are concerned about the potentially increasing water-carbon tradeoffs with dry cooling.  They write: “Facing increasing water concerns, dry cooling has been and may continually be promoted as an emerging freshwater mitigation technique in some major economies in the next few decades along with renewable energy transitions.”

He says the research leading to the paper underscores the urgency of integrated power sector planning in the face of dual water-carbon challenges and “highlights the importance of considering climate-specific factors and interconnected systems to achieve sustainable energy solutions.”

The work was led by Dr. Yue Qin of Peking University. He’s research contributing to the paper findings is supported by the Global Energy Initiative at the ClimateWorks Foundation.


Pixabay photo

From wildfire smoke to heat waves, Long Island has experienced significant impacts of climate change this summer like many parts of this country and the rest of the world.

People tend to ignore the problem until it directly affects them. Signs of climate change have been evident on Long Island for generations, such as water quality issues, rising sea levels and erosion. Some have overlooked newspaper articles covering these issues, dismissed local environmental activists and prioritized other concerns like affordability, cultural debates and health care.

However, the undeniable reality of a changing environment can no longer be ignored. The memory of walking outside within the past two months, suffocating in residual smoke from Canadian wildfires, remains vivid for many. The relentlessness of this summer’s heat and the overall warming trend throughout the year are hard to ignore.

The issues we face are not just anecdotal. Moody’s ranked Long Island as the fourth worst area among major American population centers regarding chronic physical risks associated with climate change. The consequences are not only on human health but are costly economically. 

While our area boasts beauty and affluence, a significant portion of this prosperity comes from shoreline businesses and homeowners. With rising sea levels threatening these properties, the potential for immense property damage looms, leading some to consider leaving the island before catastrophe strikes. 

This departure would not only impact local businesses but also philanthropic efforts and community engagement. Furthermore, the loss of beaches, parks and recreational spaces would profoundly affect the essence of the North Shore.

It is now imperative for our community and elected leaders to take this problem seriously. We don’t envy those in positions of power. With climate change on the brink, the decisions they make will affect future generations irreversibly.

Experts at every level of government, from federal to the village, must work diligently to assess the specific risks of climate change in our area and develop effective solutions to mitigate its impact.

We encourage our U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) to advocate for federal funding to address environmental concerns in our district and to sponsor national legislation to combat climate change.

To protect the North Shore we cherish, we must invest in solutions like wind energy, the preservation of open spaces and beaches, safeguarding aquifers and water quality and monitoring toxic waste. 

Climate change does not offer an easy, one-size-fits-all solution. It requires extensive research and collective effort to both understand and address it. It falls on all of us to support experts in finding solutions, whether through financial support or spreading awareness.

Climate change is a scary prospect, especially when imagining how much Long Island could be affected according to expert projections. Change itself can be terrifying for the average person, making it tempting to push aside the problem. But avoiding the issue will only exacerbate the situation. Superficial solutions will not suffice in confronting the serious consequences of climate change.

This is not a political issue. It is a matter that impacts our community and economy — as well as the world at large. We urge everyone to treat climate change with deep respect and do their part in protecting the environment. Let’s unite in safeguarding the place we call home.

Allison McComiskey, chair of the Environmental & Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The wildfires last week in Quebec, Canada, that brought an orange haze, smoke and record pollution to New York were not only disconcerting, but also were something of a reality check.

These raging fires occurred earlier than normal and, with a so-called cut-off low in Maine acting like a bumper in a pinball game driving the smoke down along the eastern seaboard, created hazardous air quality conditions from New York through Virginia.

“There’s a real concern about this intensity, the size of the fire, happening this early in the season,” said Allison McComiskey, chair of the Environmental & Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Typically, wildfire season starts later in the summer and extends through the fall. If we’re going to be having wildfires of this size this early in the season and it continues, [there will be] much more of an impact on people in terms of air quality, health, and well being.”

Dry conditions caused by climate change intensified the severity of these fires, making them more difficult to extinguish and increasing the amount of particulates that can cause lung and other health problems thrown into the air.

“Wildfire season is getting longer,” said Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook’s University’s program in Public Health. These fires are “spread because we have drier conditions, the vegetation is dry, we have droughts. Those require long-term solutions of trying to tackle climate change on a fundamental level.”

The intensity of the smoke and the cancelation of events like the Yankees and Phillies games has raised awareness of the downwind dangers from wildfires.

“This is like our Hurricane Sandy from an air quality perspective,” said Brian Colle, division head in Atmospheric Sciences at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. 

Scientists urged a multi-level approach to tackle a wildfire problem that they believe will become increasingly dangerous for human health.

Forest management, including controlled burns, would reduce the available fuel for fires started by natural causes such as lightning.

“Forest management may be one approach,” said Dr. Danesh Yazdi. That alone, however, won’t solve the threat from wildfires amid higher temperatures and more frequent droughts, she added.

McComiskey added that researchers are “certain” that wildfires are going to increase in the future due to climate change and suggested that these events ratchet up the need for getting better predictive models about what these fires will mean for human health and the climate.

The heavy smoke that descended on New York, which some health officials described as creating conditions for those who spent hours outdoors that are akin to smoking several cigarettes, is “a wake up call that we need policies” to deal with the conditions that create these fires, McComiskey said.

The increase by a “fraction of a degree in temperature is really not the point,” McComiskey added. “We need to decarbonize our economy and we need to move toward addressing the bigger causes of climate change.”

A wildfire occurring earlier in the year with smoke filled with particulates could raise awareness and attention to the dangers from such events.

“Having this kind of thing happen in the East Coast through New York and [Washington] DC, as opposed to where we typically think of bad wildfire happening out west, in Washington State and the Rocky Mountains, might help in terms of the awareness and urgency to take some action,” McComiskey added.

New proposed EPA regulations may affect the Northport Power Station, pictured above. File photo
By Aidan Johnson

The Biden administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new proposed regulations on May 11 that would require most power plants fired by fossil fuels to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent between 2035 and 2040. Plants that do not meet these requirements may have to close down entirely, according to the new plan.

Starting in 2030, the EPA guidelines would generally require more CO2 emissions controls for power plants that operate more frequently, phasing increasingly stringent CO2 requirements over time, an EPA statement said.

If passed, the new requirements would likely impact the Port Jefferson and Northport power stations, both fired by natural gas.

The EPA projects the carbon reductions under the new guidelines would help avoid over 600 million metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere from 2028 to 2042, “along with tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulate matter,” the statement reads.

This new proposal comes over four years after the Long Island Power Authority, which buys all of the Port Jefferson Power Station’s power, settled its tax lawsuit with the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson. 

“The terms of settlement shelter us from having to pay back taxes (taxes collected during the 6-year-long court battle) while also providing a glide path moving forward over the next 8 years, during which the 50% reduction of tax revenue can be absorbed,” Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in a 2019 statement.

The new EPA standards represent a step toward alleviating the climate crisis, according to the Biden administration. Their impact, however, will likely be felt locally given that a sizable portion of PJV’s budget is subsidized by the plant. This applies to other local institutions, such as the Port Jefferson Fire Department and school district.

Bruce Miller, former Port Jefferson Village trustee, said in an interview that it is technologically feasible to remove carbon dioxide and other polluting gasses from the smoke stacks. He also maintains that the possibility of using hydrogen, a clean fuel source, remains an option. 

“The thing that I’m talking to National Grid [the owner of the plant] about is hydrogen,” Miller said. “Will they be thinking in terms of possibly a combined cycle plant in Port Jefferson? That would be our hope.”

These talks are still preliminary as the proposed regulations are still subject to a public comment period. “Whether National Grid and LIPA would want to make the investment to put some hydrogen-powered combined cycle plants — redo the Port Jefferson plant — is a huge question mark,” Miller indicated. “I don’t have an answer for that or even a projection.”

The former trustee added that the impact to local budgets could be “substantial,” noting, “It’s going to be a major adjustment if that plant goes offline.”

While the long-term plans for the plant remain unknown, Garant maintained that the village’s finances would not be hit all at once if the plant were to shutter.

“The community wouldn’t be on a cliff,” she said in a phone interview. “The norm is like another 10-year glide path to give you a chance to settle into another loss of revenue.”

While the potential loss of public revenue remains a critical policy concern for local officials, the impact that climate change has had on the village cannot be ignored either. The past few years have brought both droughts and flooding, likely the consequence of intensifying storms and rising tides due to climate change.

“Projections for sea-level rise over the coming decades are nothing short of staggering,” said trustee Rebecca Kassay, Port Jeff’s sustainability commissioner, in a statement. “If the global community does not work together — from individuals to villages to states to nations and every agency in between — and climate change is not slowed from its current projections, [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] confidently forecasts that Port Jefferson Harbor will engulf Port Jefferson Village’s downtown Main Street within a century’s time.”

The EPA will host virtual trainings on June 6 and 7 to provide information about the proposed regulations.

Above, Maasai tribe leaders during a visit to Port Jefferson on Saturday, April 22. Left to right: Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko, Cecilia Tipanko and John Kilenyi Ole Parsitau. Photos by Raymond Janis

Following a multiyear delay due to COVID-19, representatives of Port Jefferson’s sister village visited last weekend.

On Saturday, April 22, the chief of the Maasai tribe in Kenya returned to the Port Jefferson Village Center with two fellow members of the tribe. The Maasai delegation presented on local developments in Kenya since its last visit, as the shadow of the pandemic and environmental degradation have diminished their way of life.

In Maasai villages, there is no running water or electricity, they explained. The women construct huts made of sticks and mud. Men protect the community from the numerous dangerous animals that cohabitate in their territory. In this agricultural society, a Maasai family’s worth is determined by the number of cattle it owns.

‘For any American, it’s very beneficial to know about other cultures and other parts of the world.’

— Virginia Armstrong

In recent years, the Maasai have been ravaged by severe drought, killing off much of their cattle and endangering their very existence.

The chief, Joseph Ole Tipanko, oversees approximately 7,000 people in Kenya. His wife, Cecilia, and John Kilenyi Ole Parsitau were with him.

During their presentations, the Maasai people had an opportunity to share their culture with Port Jeff, highlighting the many similarities and differences between the two.

Virginia Armstrong is a local resident and partner of the Maasai organization, helping arrange their events while they are visiting the United States. 

She said that through the year, the leaders and community members of the two villages, though separated by 10,000 miles, have forged close ties.

“Mayor [Margot] Garant has been here several times, and she calls them her sister village,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong also stressed the unique opportunities that this bond creates, emphasizing how cultural exchanges between the two villages mutually enrich one another.

“We benefit each other,” she said. “We bring some cultural awareness to Port Jeff and then, in exchange, we are supported by the village here.”

She added, “For any American, it’s very beneficial to know about other cultures and other parts of the world.”

‘Whenever we come here, we feel so connected.’

— Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko

During the presentations, the chief explored some of the challenges that the Maasai people face today, including severe droughts, environmental degradation and the ill effects of climate change.

The chief said there are numerous attributes that Port Jeff village residents should take away from the Maasai way of life. “People need to be bonded together by love and unity,” he said. “It’s also good that they know that they should conserve.”

Tipanko stressed that in much of the undeveloped world, including the Maasai villages, access to food is often limited. He reminded Americans that they should not take food for granted. 

“They should appreciate what they have here in this country,” he said.

He has also observed in the U.S. a tendency toward excess, with many Americans consuming well beyond their basic needs. He commented that this mode of thinking could lead to a grasping, materialistic outlook and culture, impeding one’s connection to others and enjoyment of life.

American children “need much, but in Africa, even getting a sweet — a candy — is something big,” he said. “Getting a pair of shoes is something that’s big because some of the kids are barefoot.” 

He added that Americans “should be thankful for what they have because they have running water in their houses, bathrooms and electricity. To me, I think they are very lucky.”

Upon returning to Port Jeff, the chief highlighted the importance of sharing that message.

“Whenever we come here, we feel so connected,” he said, adding that this unique forum “teaches the students to come and appreciate the diverse cultures of the world. And in that, when I understand their culture and they understand my culture, we are able to live peacefully as brothers and sisters for a peaceful global world.”

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Climate change often conjures images of violent storms, rising sea levels and endangered animals.

Scientists around the world warn so often about the dangers to our one and only planet that some couples have decided to hold off — or even not — have children among all the future anxiety.

Amid all that worry, however, New York City, the Trust for Governors Island, Stony Brook University and a team of other universities, nonprofits and businesses are working on the kind of solutions that could lead to a better future.

On a sun-splashed Monday morning at Governors Island just off the southern tip of Manhattan, Mayor Eric Adams (D), SBU President Maurie McInnis, Simons Foundation President David Spergel and a host of other luminaries discussed a new $710 million center for climate solutions, which Stony Brook as the anchor institution has called the New York Climate Exchange.

With $100 million in backing from the Simons Foundation, $50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from New York City, the center will serve a host of important functions, including retraining 6,000 workers a year for jobs in the green energy sector, providing incubator space for businesses that are working on climate solutions and educating children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In addition to the huge win for Stony Brook, which competed against other high-powered public and private universities for this coveted lead role, the effort could be a victory for New York, the surrounding mid-Atlantic states, the country and the planet.

Near the Statue of Liberty, which is a beacon of hope for democracy and an iconic symbol of the country, the Governors Island effort can come up with solutions and alternatives to a doom-and-gloom scenario while also sparking a commitment from students eager to find an outlet for their energy and creativity.

Will the center on its own help the world avoid the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature from the pre-Industrial Revolution days that scientists often point to as a tipping point for the planet? 

Absolutely not. That’s up to everyone from government and state leaders to huge companies and even individuals in the U.S. and throughout the world.

What the climate center, which will be completed in 2028 and will generate its own electric power without adding greenhouse gasses, will do is encourage dialogue with everyone, offer hope and provide a place for the best and brightest minds to develop answers to some of the world’s most troubling questions.

Coming just a few days after Earth Day, that is worth celebrating.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

The weather outside has been frightful and local researchers suggest the trend has been anything but delightful.

Over the last year, the country has confronted numerous violent and intense storms, causing property damage and leading to evacuations and rescues. Just last week, Fort Lauderdale, Florida received a month’s worth of rain in an hour amid a storm that dumped over two feet of rain on the city. Such a torrential storm isn’t unique to Florida, as areas including Dallas experienced significant rains last August that crippled the city.

Malcolm Bowman

“The extremes are increasing,” said Malcolm Bowman, Professor Emeritus at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “It’s part of the prediction of climate science.”

Indeed, as the atmosphere becomes warmer, the increase in water vapor raises the amount of rain in a particular storm, added Edmund Chang, Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. Chang and other local scientists discussed their concerns and potential cause for optimism amid the approach of the 54th anniversary of Earth Day.

Climate Change report

This March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that suggested that climate change was worsening and that the Earth will likely increase by more than the 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial revolution averages that would lead to numerous environmental damage.

“Since the last IPCC report, there has been a lot more research looking at these weather extremes,” Chang said.

Edmund Chang

In warmer temperatures, which have increased on average for the Earth by 1.1 degrees, storms carry significantly more precipitation.

While it is outside the realm of his own research, Chang said that other researchers have demonstrated that storms in the Northeastern United States have had an increase in higher precipitation events, which is also linked to the fact that these storms are moving more slowly, drenching areas with rain before slowly leaving.

Chang is particularly concerned about sea level rise. “I have lived in coastal areas all my life,” he said. “We know that the sea level is rising. The rate of rise is accelerated.” Counteracting the effects of melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic are among the more difficult processes to mitigate, he added.

In his own research, Chang is assessing the bias in models that predict whether a season will likely be stormier than average. He is looking at how model biases may impact the accuracy of longer range forecasts.

Different models have different biases, he explained. Weather channel fans, and those who watch storm models for approaching hurricanes and other events, may recognize that meteorologists often overlay American and European weather models, particularly when describing approaching hurricanes.

In Chang’s research, he has found that combining different models improves the forecast. “A better way of improving models is to understand where the model biases or error comes from” rather than averaging errors that cancel each other out, he said.

Reasons for optimism

Chang believes there are reasons for optimism about efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The current administration is “starting to impose more stringent emissions controls from vehicles,” he said. “It’s getting a bit more encouraging.”

In other areas, world leaders have also taken encouraging steps towards protecting the oceans and biodiversity. Last month, the United Nations announced the legal framework for a High Seas treaty, which protects biodiversity, reduces pollutions and shares ocean resources. After 20 years of work, 193 countries verbally agreed to a treaty to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Ellen Pikitch

The treaty is “of monumental importance,” said Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of Ocean Conservation Science and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “The treaty will enable marine protected areas (MPAs) to be created in areas outside national jurisdictions and allow fisheries management of species in international waters not currently covered by regional agreements.”

Citing recent reports, Bowman said global emissions of carbon dioxide have declined 2 percent over the last 12 months. “There are moves, even in China, to bring in solar and wind” power, he added.

Local concerns

As storms hit areas like Florida and Texas, Long Islanders frequently wonder about the readiness of the region for future storms. Indeed, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the Middle Atlantic states in 2012.

“If we had another Sandy, it could be just as bad or worse,” said Bowman, who has been a part of a storm surge working group in New York.

In the fall, the Army Corps of Engineers published a tentatively selected plan for the area after the administration of President Biden (D) reinstated the Harbor and Tributary Study, which was temporarily halted in 2019. The plan doesn’t involve enough protection along the harbor with concrete and steel, Bowman said. 

“They say [concrete] is terrible,” Bowman said. “We say it’s necessary.”

Any plan for flooding in and around the New York area would not only have to address how to handle a storm surge that brought water in from the ocean. It would also have to provide a way for any heavy rains to get out.

The reality of global warming is “scary,” said Bowman. And yet, “how many people are changing their living habits?”

As for his native New Zealand, Bowman said a tornado touched down in recent weeks, which is “unheard of.” While the tornado was not on the scale of such twisters in Kansas, he said it ripped through several homes.

New Zealand, with a population of five million people, is moving toward using electric cars, while the country is also considering a genetic modification in cattle that reduces the production of methane from when they burp or pass gas.

“There’s a big push in New Zealand to do its bit,” Bowman said.

Above, conceptual rendering of the proposed Center for Climate Solutions on Governors Island. Photo from New York City

The New York City Mayor’s Office and the Trust for Governors Island may soon announce the winner for the global competition to create the Center for Climate Solutions.

In October, Stony Brook University was announced as a finalist for the ambitious project. Northeastern University and the City University of New York and the New School were the leaders of the other bids.

A multidimensional environmental effort designed to educate the public, offer climate solutions and ensure equitable climate solutions, the competition, which was launched in 2020 by former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), is expected to create over $1 billion in economic impact and create 7,000 permanent jobs.

The winner or winners will create a space on the island that features views of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge with several key features. The center will provide a way to study the impacts of climate change, host a living lab that provides entrepreneurs and nonprofits that can test and showcase their climate solutions, serve as an urban center for environmental justice organizations, feature dormitories and housing and provide space for New Yorkers and visitors to discuss climate change.

Partners on the Stony Brook proposal include Brookhaven National Laboratory, International Business Machines, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pace University, Pratt Institute, University of Washington, Duke University, Moody’s Corporation, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Maritime College, Oxford University, URBS Systems, General Electric and other business, nonprofit and on-Island partners.

The proposals offered ways to support interdisciplinary research focused on urban adaptation, urban environments, public policy, environmental justice and public health.

At the same time, the finalists offered educational programs for students all the way from K-12 through graduate and adult education.

The center will provide workforce training opportunities, incubators and accelerator spaces for nonprofits and entrepreneurs working on climate and public programming.

The selection committee that is choosing the winners includes representatives from the Trust for Governors Island, Mayor Eric Adams’s (D) Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, the Mayor’s Office of Equity and the New York City Department of City Planning.

“New York City is facing some of the most complex climate adaptation challenges in the world,” Kizzy Charles-Guzman, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, said in a statement when the finalists were announced last October. “The Center for Climate Solutions will bring together actionable science, community-based partnerships and innovative and equitable solutions to communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, left, Michael Schwarting, partner of Campani and Schwarting Architects, center, and trustee Rebecca Kassay. Photos by Raymond Janis

Between rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms and a changing climate, the Village of Port Jefferson is also addressing longstanding flooding concerns.

Public officials, architects and residents gathered at Village Hall on Wednesday, April 5, sharing updated findings of the ongoing village Climate Resilience Plan in a community workshop. With water targeting the village from all angles, data is being used to develop new intervention strategies.

“The Village of Port Jefferson, Drowned Meadow if you will [the village’s original name], has had unending issues with flooding as a result of topography, tides, runoff, rains, storms, a shallow water table and many other issues,” said Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. “I believe tonight’s workshop will be extremely helpful in moving Port Jefferson toward the ability to implement a responsible and solid resiliency plan.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay, the village’s sustainability commissioner, updated the public on the status of the Project Advisory Committee. Composed of residents, contractors, Conservation Advisory Council members and Amani Hosein, legislative aide to Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), the PAC is pursuing the Climate Resilience Plan for the village with a focus on flooding.

The study is made possible by an $82,500 grant from the New York State Department of State to fund the creation of the Port Jeff plan. Michael Schwarting is a partner of the local Campani and Schwarting Architects, one of the firms hired to carry out various tasks associated with the grant. During the meeting, he updated the public on the study’s findings.

Flooding: an Achilles’ heel

Schwarting analyzed Port Jeff’s long history of flooding using historical aerial photographs and maps. He identified various hidden water bodies, such as Crystal Lake near the fire station and other creeks and streams, flowing beneath the existing built environment in Lower Port.

“The maps tell us a good deal about the conditions, and what we know is that it’s all still there,” he said. “That water is underground, and it doesn’t go away.”

Schwarting said three factors work to exacerbate flooding conditions: rising tides, waters below the surface and low-lying topography. “Those three things interact with one another to cause the problems that we’ve been having in the past, are still having and will have in a worse way, according to predictions,” the architect said.

The village is simultaneously afflicted by water from above, with projections for more frequent and intense precipitation events due to climate change. “The prediction is that the storms are going to increase,” Schwarting said, adding that as global sea levels rise, Port Jeff Harbor is projected to begin spilling over into much of the downtown business district.

Potential solutions 

Despite the challenges ahead, Schwarting maintained that there are some natural remedies to help counteract these threats.

Storm drainage systems and rain gardens, for example, are already in place, collecting and channeling some of the stormwater load into the ground. Bioswales, bioretention planters and permeable pavement systems offer other modes of stormwater discharge and filtration, assigning it a reuse function as well.

The architect also proposed transitioning hardscape surfaces along the harbor, such as the Town of Brookhaven parking lot, as green space, which could add scenic value while acting as a floodwater sponge.

The next stages of the study will involve collecting more resident feedback and defining projects worth public consideration. Schwarting said a similar meeting would take place as those phases progress.

“We will start to move toward solving the problem now that we have spent quite a bit of time understanding the problem,” Schwarting said.

Kassay acknowledged the complexities of the flooding question, referring to these initial findings as “a little overwhelming.” Despite this, she maintained that planning and intervention remain the proper path forward.

“The only thing worse than digging into this problem is to ignore it because it’s happening, whether or not we do something,” she said. “We really need to come together to prioritize, make these decisions and support this work so that it is guided toward the result that you wish to see as a community.”



To view the full presentation and the Q&A portion of the meeting, see video above. To respond to the Port Jefferson Village Climate Resilience Survey, scan the QR code.