How to rebuild cities after Hurricanes like Harvey & Irma?

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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma not only devastated thousands of lives and destroyed property worth billions but it has come up with the question – how to rebuild cities after hurricanes so that they can withstand the next one.

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TEXAS: In an effort to make cities the way they can resist such disasters, authorities in Galveston (Texas) at the federal, state and local levels joined in building a massive 10-mile-long seawall around Galveston which immensely suffered from Hurricane Harvey. There is another project started there which will raise the whole city above flood level by lifting buildings by as much as 16 feet and filling in foundations with millions of tons of sand.

Sandra Knight, a senior research engineer at the University of Maryland says “When you talk about rebuilding a place like Houston, people’s first thoughts are “I want it back the way it was” and unfortunately that’s not the best thing to do. As a nation, we aren’t planning forward enough. We are developing in places that aren’t sustainable. We need to start doing things differently,”

Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, marveled that the state’s “resilient spirit is alive and well”. “Texas-sized storm needs a Texas-sized response”,

Jeff Herbert, chief resiliency officer for New Orleans said, “This emergency response is entirely appropriate in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, according to but at some point, a difficult conversation about whether a city needs to be refashioned as it recovers also needs to happen”.

“Houston had 51 inches of rain and that would be disastrous for any city in the world, Mexico City, Bangkok, anywhere,” Herbert said. “It was unprecedented. The priority now is rescuing people and helping them.

We have a completely different landscape and climate now. They are complete game changers, Said Sandra Knight, research engineer “The next phase of recovery is the appropriate time to talk about how to rebuild the city. Houston will have to think about retrofitting to accept more water and think about its development patterns. The city will have to think about how it manages storm water and its regulations.”

Michael E. Mann, American Climatologist and Geophysicist, currently director of the Earth System Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University said, “It’s a fact that climate change made Hurricane Harvey deadlier.”

“In Houston and elsewhere we’ve encroached upon our floodplains and we aren’t leaving any natural environment to slow the flood waters. We build dams and levees and people assume they are safe behind them, or downstream from them. But look at New Orleans – the levees failed,” said Knight.

Knight said her initial training as a hydrological engineer focused on getting flood water off your land as quickly as possible. “But we’ve learned that’s not the best way to deal with floods,” she said. “We have a completely different landscape and climate now. They are complete game-changers.”

“Many cities have dams, levees and flood walls which are a fairly narrow and inflexible response to flooding,” said Jeff Opperman, global freshwater lead scientist at WWF. “There is growing appreciation in the US that we need to diversify, to set the levees back, use natural vegetation and allow the river room. But then there are political decisions around development and that’s a less rational process.”

“There’s a big variation in how cities are preparing, some are doing almost nothing,” said Sabrina McCormick, an academic at George Washington University and lead author of the research. “Houston’s approach is similar to other cities in that it hasn’t looked into the future and taken the risks seriously. Unfortunately, we are seeing the ramifications
of that.”

“Ideally we’d have a national plan to help guide cities toward some basic level of planning to address these risks. If we don’t see that leadership, cities will have to look to other cities to figure out where to go next. We also need to mitigate our greenhouse gases to reduce the impact in the first place,” according to Sabrina McCormick.

NASA contribution in the golden age of Environmental Technology

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In late August, as Hurricane Harvey began ravaging into the Texas Coast, NASA was using a group of satellites to collect a torrent of data continuously from hundreds and thousands of miles overhead, through radar instruments and Spectro radiometer sensors and exquisitely calibrated imaging cameras.  The product of some 40 years of experimentation and investment of the report of the federal government resulted in the array of satellites, comprising dozens of NOAA (The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration)’ which are joined in their orbit by weather and climate satellites from scientific agencies in Europe and Asia.  After a big hurricane like Harvey and Irma began smashing the catastrophic quantities of rainwater the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, crucial tools for monitoring big storms in the Gulf of Mexico, were capturing cloud formations, surface temperatures and barometric pressures, which were then fed into computer models tracking the storm’s strength and intensity. At the same time, NASA was using a pair of satellites GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) to assess how much water floods in and how it dissipates as the storm recedes and to keep tabs on soil moisture, flood patterns and power failures all over East Texas. Two spacecraft associated to GRACE have been circling around the Earth every 90 minutes for the past 15 years at an altitude of 300 miles or so.

In the design and the operation of the infrastructure, climate plays a key role and determines energy and water demands to a large extent. Therefore, Climate Change will have direct impacts on how we design almost any aspect of the city, from its drainage system to its energy use.

Talking about the damages by Harvey and Irma, a blog by NASA scientists have explained how hurricanes form and what steps the US space agency has taken to study the most violent storms on Earth. In addition to that NASA also uses airplane that operate without people which files into and above the hurricane to record the intensity and wavelength for the future course of safety measures for the people struck in the calamity. This processing of the satellites operated by NASA   provided stream of satellite images on TV as Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston- some of it is experimental and unknown to the scientific circles. The scientific data provided by satellites like GRACE portrays the golden age of environmental data and technology which turns up something so valuable for human civilization and survival and of course for the understanding of climate change.