September 26, 2018
Humans first visited the Katy Prairie around 10,000 years ago. The prairie lies in what is now known as the Texas Coastal Plain, bound by the Brazos River on the southwest, pine forest on the north, and the city of Houston on the east. Over those thousands of years, the land was used increasingly for hunting and farming by Native Americans, pioneers, cattle ranchers and rice farmers. Beginning in the 1980s, a new group arrived: suburbanites. As Houston grew, developers started constructing master-planned communities on what remained of the undeveloped portions of the Katy Prairie. From 1978 to 1983, 100,000 acres of Katy Prairie were converted to urban use.
The formation of the Katy Prairie Conservancy in 1992 helped protect the land, 200,000 acres of which were undeveloped at the time.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit in August of last year, some Houston conservationists are urging that the city consider prairies as a tool for a more resilient city in an era when climate change is fueling more powerful and more frequent major storms.
Prairies are the kind of land that soaks up rain, a “super-effective urban sponge,” as Laura Huffman, regional director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas, puts it.
The benefit of such land in an urban context has long been understood, according to MaryAnne Piacentini, president and chief executive officer of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, “but it only has begun to be heard,” she says.
Piacentini and Huffman point to Houston’s “Memorial Day Flood” in 2015, the “Tax Day Flood” in 2016, and finally Harvey as contributing to the urgency surrounding resiliency. “In order to keep people safe, in order to keep properties preserved, we have to start thinking differently,” says Huffman.
Post Harvey, it was widely pointed out that Houston’s growth — dependant on policies that encouraged development in flood-prone areas while reducing the region’s natural defenses to flooding — exacerbated the storm’s devastation.
The area around Katy Prairie was a case in point. Developments overlapped or abutted floodplains, and local officials hadn’t done enough to preserve the native grasses, set aside open spaces or improve drainage. Damage around Katy, according to the New York Times, was not restricted to floodplains identified by FEMA.
Prairie proponents are looking at different ways the land could be integrated into the city’s resiliency plan.
Advocacy has risen for urban “pocket” prairies, which have increasingly popped up around Houston in places like hospitals and high schools. This spring, students at Rice University spearheaded a plan in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Katy Prairie Conservancy to restore a portion of the coastal prairie habitat and integrate it as part of the college campus.
There’s another major opportunity in the form of the $2.5 billion flood bond approved by 85 percent of Houston voters this August. It allows the Harris County Flood Control District to build at least 230 resilience-centered projects over the next 10 to 15 years.
“There are a lot of projects that show a willingness for border preservation — figuring out how much land on either side of our creeks and bayous ought to be protected — as well as buyouts, to take people out of harm’s way and permanently protect that land as open space,” says Piacentini.
To better advocate for green infrastructure, Katy Prairie Conservancy has worked with partners, including Rice University, to study how prairies and wetlands can absorb and slow down floodwaters. The Nature Conservancy, too, is conducting research across the country to determine how nature can help reduce the impact of flooding.
“It’s very hopeful that in the work we’re doing … we can bring science behind us and show the cumulative value that we provide,” Piacentini says.
At Harris County Flood Control, there’s more reservation with regard to urban prairies. A study conducted by the Harris County Flood Control District between 2013 and 2016 revealed that native prairies were unable to absorb 100 percent of runoff in smaller storm events, though they performed better than developed land.
“Can we rely on this landscape as a flood reduction tool?” asks Stephen Benigno, an ecological restoration practitioner with the Harris County Flood Control District. “Not 100 percent, which is not to say we shouldn’t. But there’s still a limit to how much water the soil can hold.”
Prairies aren’t the only green infrastructure the Harris County Flood Control District is studying in regards to flood reduction, Benigno notes. The county is also looking into the potential of bioswales, native vegetation and floodplain preservation.
Still, there are challenges ahead. Benigno points to the difficulty of acquiring the land that green infrastructure requires. “On any given year there’s a budget we have to stick to — we can’t go out and buy every piece of floodplain in one year,” he says.
Despite challenges, awareness around green infrastructure is on the rise. “We are trying to normalize the concept,” says Huffman. “It’s the ability to get projects on the ground and cultivate the science, to squeeze out the risk of these strategies for when the public sector is ready to invest.”
She points to a recent study in which scientist found that native wetlands prevented $625 million in property damage from flooding during Hurricane Sandy and that restoring natural elements like wetlands and reefs could help avert more than 45 percent of the climate risk over a 20-year period, saving more than $50 billion in flood damages.
Huffman believes that intuitively, “people know that if you don’t have a parking lot, but you have a prairie, you’ll get two different outcomes.” Integrating that into real policy remains an uphill battle, she and Piacentini admit.
“Understanding it at an intuitive level is different than incorporating it into an actual capital improvement program, where you’re making hard choices about where pipes go, and where prairies go,” says Huffman. “We’re moving toward showing people how practically, it can be incorporated post-Harvey.”
Corals and cave carbonates can reveal the temperatures that prevailed at the Earth's surface at the time they formed. An international team of geoscientists has developed a new method that makes it possible to identify whether the composition of these deposits was exclusively controlled by temperature, or if the formation ...
Billions of tons of carbon dioxide risk being lost into the atmosphere due to tropical forest soils being significantly more sensitive to climate change than previously thought.
Actively restored forests recover above ground biomass faster than areas left to regenerate naturally after being logged, according to a long-term study on Borneo lowland rainforest.
Researchers asked whether heritage sites threatened by climate change should be allowed to adapt and 'transform.'
One million years ago, the extinction of large-bodied plant-eaters changed the trajectory of life on Earth. The disappearance of these large herbivores reshaped plant life, altered fire regimes across Earth's landscapes, and modified biogeochemical cycling in such a way that Earth's climate became slightly colder.
The RCP 8.5 carbon emissions pathway is the most appropriate for conducting assessments of climate change impacts by 2050, according to a new article. Long dismissed as an alarmist or misleading worst-case scenario, the authors argue that is actually the closest approximation of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of ...
A new study suggests that future reductions in seasonal snowpack as a result of climate change may negatively influence forest growth in semi-arid climates, but less so in wetter climates.
A new study warns that even with some lockdown measures staying in place to the end of 2021, without more structural interventions global temperatures will only be roughly 0.01°C lower than expected by 2030. However, the study estimates that including climate policy measures as part of an economic recovery plan ...
A new report focuses on how agricultural systems are impacted by climate change and offers a list of 20 indicators that provide a broad look at what's happening across the country.
Statement of Tom Gilbert, Campaign Director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation & ReThink Energy NJ The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) yesterday told PennEast that it hadn’t met the minimum legal requirements for the agency to be able to begin application review. “It is not surprising that NJDEP ...
Marine heatwaves across the world's oceans can displace habitat for sea turtles, whales, and other marine life by 10s to thousands of kilometers. They dramatically shift these animals' preferred temperatures in a fraction of the time that climate change is expected to do the same, new research shows.
The study reveals that the rate at which carbon is captured from the atmosphere at Harvard Forest nearly doubled between 1992 and 2015.
Although overhunting led to the demise of some prehistoric megafauna after the last ice age, a new study found that the extinction of the woolly rhinoceros may have been caused by climate change. By sequencing ancient DNA from 14 woolly rhinos, researchers found that their population remained stable and diverse ...
Marketers can lead how their companies can use the cost and demand effects of reducing the carbon footprint of their products to determine the profit-maximizing design.
Biologists recently studied cryptobenthic reef fishes in the Arabian Gulf and the Sea of Oman and found that the more thermally extreme coral reef habitat in the Arabian Gulf adversely impacted the diversity and productivity of these important fishes.
Intensified rainstorms predicted for many parts of the United States as a result of warming climate may have a modest silver lining: they could more efficiently water some major crops, and this would at least partially offset the far larger projected yield declines caused by the rising heat itself.
Miniscule plants growing on desert soils can help drylands retain water and reduce erosion, researchers have found.
With COVID-19 dominating the headlines, searches for climate change are on the decline. That worries authors of a new study showing that even brief, involuntary attention to environmental issues moves people to care more and act.
With less than two weeks before PennEast’s requested in-service date, the pipeline company requested a two-year extension. New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The Watershed Institute, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to oppose PennEast’s baseless request for an extension of time. On ...
Glaciers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand have lost more ice mass since pre-industrial times than remains today, according to a new study. The study mapped Southern Alps ice loss from the end of the Little Ice Age -- roughly 400 years ago -- to 2019. It found that ...
A statement from Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ On Thursday, May 23, New Jersey legislature passed a bipartisan bill that requires the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set benchmarks for reducing emissions and adopt measures to ensure we meet them. May ...
March 12, 2020 Climate Central today announced the release of its global Coastal Risk Screening Tool to generate customizable, localized maps of projected sea level rise and coastal flood risks by year, water level, and elevation. Climate Central’s new ...
Ecologists have discovered that the food hoards pygmy owls collect in nest-boxes ('freezers') for winter rot due to high precipitation caused by heavy autumn rains and if the hoarding has been initiated early in the autumn. The results of the study show that climate change may impair predators' foraging and ...
PennEast has been dealt a serious setback in its attempt to build an unsafe and unneeded pipeline through Mercer and Hunterdon Counties. Today, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower federal court decision that had allowed PennEast to seize state lands. The Third Circuit ruled that PennEast, as ...
The series was produced in collaboration with WWNO New Orleans Public Radio and Climate Central, and is part of the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines reporting initiative exploring how the Netherlands’ climate change adaptation strategies could be a model for the Louisiana coast.
Click for Larger View of Animation
Climate Central examined flood risks facing NASA's active space launch complexes at the John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Using our proprietary Portfolio Analysis Tool (PAT).
We found that the launch pads most vulnerable to ...
Click for Larger View of Animation Climate Central examined flood risks facing NASA's active space launch complexes at the John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Using our proprietary Portfolio Analysis Tool (PAT). We found that the launch pads most vulnerable to ...
A new study from Australian scientists at the forefront of climate and health modelling suggests electric fans and water dousing could be a viable stay-at-home cooling strategy as the United States anticipates extreme heat.
Scientists have discovered that the influence of circulation changes on shaping ocean warming will diminish in the future. This is despite having been identified and modeled as a key factor over the past 60 years.
Connections with friends and family are key to helping communities adapt to the devastating impact of climate change on their homes and livelihoods. The research found people are more empowered to deal with the impact of encroaching sea-levels and dwindling fish stocks when they see others doing the same.
Accurate temperature estimates of ancient oceans are vital because they are the best tool for reconstructing global climate conditions in the past. While climate models provide scenarios of what the world could look like in the future, paleoclimate studies (study of past climates) provide insight into what the world did ...
New research out today highlights the future effects of climate change on important fish stocks for south-west UK fisheries.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied PennEast pipeline’s request for a rehearing on its ruling that PennEast lacks legal authority to seize or condemn state-owned lands for its proposed pipeline. The Third Circuit decision means PennEast no longer has authority to condemn more than 40 properties preserved by the ...
Using precise measurements from state-of-the-art satellite-based radar that can detect the land surface rise and fall with millimeter accuracy, a research team has, for the first time, tracked the entire California coast's vertical land motion. They've identified local hotspots of the sinking coast, in the cities of San Diego, Los ...
Researchers hypothesize outcomes of the pandemic's unprecedented socioeconomic disruption and outline research priorities for advancing our understanding of humans' impact on the environment.
Nearly 40 years of satellite data from Greenland shows that glaciers on the island have shrunk so much that even if global warming were to stop today, the ice sheet would continue shrinking.
Seafood is the most highly traded food commodity globally, with tropical zone marine fisheries contributing more than 50% of the global fish catch, an average of $USD 96 billion annually. Available scientific evidence consistently shows that tropical marine habitats, fish stocks and fisheries are most vulnerable to oceanic changes associated ...
FAR HILLS, NJ, June 2, 2020 — New Jersey Conservation Foundation today joined the state in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to deny PennEast’s petition to have the Court hear an appeal of a federal court decision barring the company from seizing state-owned land to build a gas pipeline. A ...
A new study which provides a global estimate of rock cover on the Earth's glaciers has revealed that the expanse of rock debris on glaciers, a factor that has been ignored in models of glacier melt and sea level rise, could be significant.
Land trusts are engaging in strategic conservation planning to build resilience and minimize vulnerabilities to impacts of climate change in different ways. Learn more.