2017 has been a jarring year for coastal states, with intense hurricane after hurricane slamming into our neighboring southeastern states, creating an influx of storm escapees from Florida and the Carolinas. Atlanta’s landlocked geographic location is already growing in population, and with predictions of rising sea levels and an increase in the occurrence of intense storm systems, this phenomenon of Southern relatives making impromptu visits may become a common occurrence. The intergovernmental panel on climate change states that “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal”, so is it surprising that based on a study by the Yale program on climate change about 70 percent of Georgia residents believe global warming is happening, and only 55 percent say they are worried about it.
Although Atlanta may not be affected by rising sea levels, climate change will affect our beloved southern metropolis. Temperatures are projected to increase nationwide with southeastern states receiving decreased amounts of rainfall; getting drier and threatening future water supply. Scientists predict an increase in bursts of intense rainfall showers in the city, fueling rapid urban flooding, while cities will also experience extreme heat due to urban heat island effects. While these forecasts seem grim, in the past several years Atlanta has made efforts in addressing our increasingly important issue of climate change. The City of Atlanta plans a climate action strategy, which includes long-term solutions for increasing energy and water efficiency according to Atlanta’s office of sustainability. The City of Atlanta office of sustainability, launched in 2008, is responsible for implementing environmentally conscious policy, programs, and projects.
As programs and improvements have been made or proposed, I wondered how can someone wanting to track or visualize Atlanta’s progress of sustainability practices gain access to such data. Naturally as an environmental science major at Georgia State University working towards earning a Geographic Information Systems certificate and map enthusiast, I wanted to explore ways to provide this data spatially (on a map). ATLMaps.org has been an ongoing collaborative project between Georgia-based research institutions providing public spatial data for means of creating research projects and linking maps in new and interesting ways. As a Student Innovation Fellow working on building content for the site, I began to do research on already available data on Atlanta’s shift towards being a more sustainable and greener urban landscape. I came across a public database that includes the implementation of an increasingly popular solution to many problems that urban areas are facing: Green Roofs.
According to the U.S. Department of the interior – National Park Service a green roof “is a layer of vegetation planted over a waterproofing system that is installed on top of a flat or slightly-sloped roof”, in other words it means exactly what is sounds like: growing plants on the roofs of buildings. Now, you may be thinking how will that improve Atlanta’s sustainability efforts and reduce our emissions? The answer is A LOT.
Green roofs help with storm water management, because Atlanta decide to become the parking deck capital of the world (not really… well maybe), the city has little greenspace and is mostly impervious surfaces (surfaces that do not allow water to penetrate). This affects how precipitation runs off the roof of buildings, which may contain contaminates and overflow the city’s sewage system, discharging sewage into flowing bodies of water. The plants on green roofs retain water, slowing and reducing the amount of storm water, and can help prevent flooding and erosion. ADDITIONALLY, the growing plant material acts as a filter and can neutralize acid rain, trap dust, and airborne particles. Temperatures in cities are typically higher than surrounding areas due the urban heat island effect, which is again the cause of large amounts of paved surfaces that absorbs the sun rays and radiates that heat, increasing local temps. This may become even more intense as temperatures are projected to only increase. Green roofs reduce this effect because the vegetation a top of buildings absorbs less heat, but also use the heat for the process of evapotranspiration which lowers temperatures on roofs by using heat to evaporate water from the air. benefits of the cooling effects of green roofs only continue to increase, as the insulate buildings better, keeping them cooler decreasing the amount of heat passing into the building This boosts the efficiency of rooftop HVAC and air conditioning equipment essentially reducing energy and energy costs. If all these benefits don’t have you wanting to install a green roof on every building, they also help reduce overall greenhouse emissions by the reduction of fossil fuel combustion used by cooling systems and adding plants and trees increases photosynthesis, lower carbon dioxide from cars and machines, and simultaneously increasing oxygen production. This improves overall air quality. Green roof not only extend your healthy life, the extend roof life as well by reducing extreme temperatures. Green Roofs are a beautiful addition to urban areas they allow an area for residents to enjoy nature in cities, and some even incorporate urban agriculture!
The city of Atlanta built the first municipal green roof in the Southeast in 2003 (That’s right even though they have so many environmental benefits Atlanta was the first to plant one for the public!). The pilot program green roof of City Hall was built to raise awareness for the implementation for green roof across Atlanta’s urban landscape.
This database provides all installed green roofs in the U.S., and will be added as a map layer to ATLmaps.org database. This layer is one part of the increasing interest and research into other data that will include other elements of Atlanta’s efforts to become sustainable. Other directions include including all solar panel installations, air quality indexes, electric car charging stations, etc. These layers can help researchers visualize the progress of connecting programs around Atlanta and this data can even be linked to other issues such as census data and their correlation and may aid in raising awareness for sustainable and environmental practices.