Cover: Building Resilience in an Urban Coastal Environment

Building Resilience in an Urban Coastal Environment

Integrated, Science-Based Planning in Jamaica Bay, New York

Published Jul 31, 2018

by Jordan R. Fischbach, Debra Knopman, Heather Smith, Philip Orton, Eric W. Sanderson, Kim Fisher, Nerissa Moray, Adam Friedberg, Adam Parris


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Research Questions

  1. How can interactions and feedbacks between Jamaica Bay's ecosystems, hydrodynamics, and water quality be represented in a coupled simulation model?
  2. What are the potential effects of climate change and sea level rise on flood risk, ecosystems, and water quality in Jamaica Bay?
  3. How can Jamaica Bay's flood risk be reduced while also improving water quality, restoring habitat in and around the bay, and more generally improving resilience to extreme weather events?

Jamaica Bay, located at the southeastern end of the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, is a valuable resource for the City of New York and the surrounding metropolitan region. It was one of the region's most heavily flooded areas during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and is also highly vulnerable to forces affecting the coast, including sea level rise, storm surge, and wetland degradation. In the years following Sandy, many ideas have been proposed to reduce the bay's vulnerabilities to these forces. But the region lacked an analytical framework for evaluating the efficacy of these various proposals and comparing their merits across the goals of flood risk reduction, improved water quality, and ecosystem restoration. Some proposed interventions have the potential to achieve benefits toward one goal but not necessarily the others, with the potential for significant tradeoffs between them. Without the appropriate tools or analyses, these kinds of assessments and comparisons are far less credible. This project implemented a participatory process with key stakeholders to explore current and future resilience-related concepts in Jamaica Bay. The process was designed to consider baywide concepts that could reduce future flood risk exposure while also improving water quality, restoring habitat in and around the bay, and more generally improving resilience to extreme weather events. The analysis compared conditions in and around Jamaica Bay in the present, considered to be 2016 when the modeling work commenced, and 25 and 50 years in the future, corresponding to the years 2041 and 2066.

Key Findings

Climate change will have a significant impact on natural and human systems in and around Jamaica Bay if no further major investments are made.

  • All key performance metrics show declining outcomes with plausible future sea level rise (SLR), including reduced habitat areas, more frequent and widespread persistent monthly (or more frequent) tidal flooding, and lower dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations.
  • Results suggest that Jamaica Bay could cope with a certain amount of SLR, but that there might be threshold effects between 1.5 and 3 feet that would lead to rapid ecosystem losses and more frequent inundation.

Two baywide adaptation concepts were developed with the goal of reducing tidal flooding, improving water quality, and restoring habitat.

  • Concept 1, which includes a storm surge barrier across Jamaica Bay Inlet and various proposed restoration and perimeter protection measures, would yield only small improvements in terms of land area change.
  • Exposure of assets to persistent tidal flooding would be mitigated slightly under Concept 1, and DO concentrations would show small increases when looking across the bay as a whole.
  • In contrast, Concept 2, focused on inlet narrowing and more extensive wetland restoration than in Concept 1, shows improvement across all metrics compared with a future without action.
  • The habitat footprint would expand significantly under Concept 2, while DO concentrations would improve across key areas of the bay.
  • Concept 2 results also suggest that nature-based inlet narrowing could also somewhat mitigate persistent tidal flooding.

The research described in this report was conducted by the Infrastructure, Resilience and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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