Featured Stories | October 1, 2015

Will Boston Sink or Swim?

By Cassie Martin

Last week, MIT faculty, students, and members of the general public gathered at the historic Boston Athenaeum to discuss the social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change on New England.

Boston: Sink or Swim” featured MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Head Markus Buehler, and Alan Berger, co-director of the Center for Advanced Urbanism. The panelists not only provided insights into what changes we can expect in the future—sea-level rise, increasing storm surges, flooding—but also a stimulating discussion of potential solutions.

Rising seas and frequent strong storm surges have become an increasing concern for Boston and other coastal cities over the last few decades. A U.S. Geological Survey study found sea-levels along the eastern seaboard are rising three to four times faster than the global average. And Boston is especially vulnerable. Without intervention, up to one-third of the city (by land area) could flood by 2100 according to a Boston Harbor Association report, disrupting the economy, displacing a growing population, and plunging parts of Boston’s rich history into the sea.

But hope is not lost. Climate scientists, engineers, and policy makers are teaming up to tackle these effects. Boston City Mayor Marty Walsh recently spearheaded the design competition “Living with Water“, which created innovative plans to adapt the city’s architecture to rising seas. At MIT, engineers and scientists are designing solutions of their own. Breakwater dams, sponge parks, re-zoning, and resilient districting—leveraging a geographic area’s natural layout and encouraging each district to identify and prepare unique defenses—are just a few of the solutions being considered.

“Mitigating the effects of climate change will take innovation and entrepreneurship” Buehler said during the discussion. “The solutions may not be presented here tonight or even by the majority of people sitting in this room. Instead, the future’s solutions may be resting in the heads of the students studying at MIT right now.”

Watch Boston: Sink or Swim in it’s entirety below: