Jenkins Warns About Rising Sea Levels for New Waterfront Projects

July 18, 2013
By
A Map developed by Drs. Paul Kirshen and Ellen Douglas and Mr. Chris Watson to show flooding above mean high tide on the Eastie coastline. MIT student Carolyn Jenkins recently completed an architecture masters thesis entitled “East Boston buffer: a transferable urban framework for adapting to sea rise”,

A Map developed by Drs. Paul Kirshen and Ellen Douglas and Mr. Chris Watson to show flooding
above mean high tide on the Eastie coastline. MIT student Carolyn Jenkins recently completed
an architecture masters thesis entitled “East Boston buffer: a transferable urban framework for
adapting to sea rise”,

With a push to get East Boston’s long neglected waterfront finally developed there is one person warning that sea level mitigation should be part of any commercial or residential development along Eastie’s shoreline.

Carolyn Jenkins, an MIT student who recently completed an architecture masters thesis entitled “East Boston buffer: a transferable urban framework for adapting to sea rise”, lays out a plan to protect future development along Eastie’s waterfront in a two-prong approach.

Jenkins research concludes that if politicians and developers are serious about future waterfront development here they must also be serious about Global Warming and its impacts on sea level rise.

To curtail the type of devastation that occurred in New York and New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, Jenkins proposes that sea level mitigation should include aquaculture of fish and salt-resistant plants. Like the wetlands of New Orleans that provide a natural buffer to storm surges this type of mitigation could also create revenue while at the same time providing storm surge resistance. She also proposes installing hydrokinetic turbines that would harness energy from the movement of the tides. Jenkins proposed engineered wetlands along Eastie’s shoreline, would not only serve as a buffer from storm surges but also filter out contaminants from storm water runoff.

Jenkins also calls for the creation of a public park near Maverick MBTA station, and future designated space on the neighborhood’s waterfront for amphibious architecture that would rise and fall with the tides as well as a marine charter school along the shore.

The risk of rising sea levels affecting a large swath of Eastie is nothing new.

In 2010 Drs. Paul Kirshen and Ellen Douglas and Mr. Chris Watson developed a series of maps in 2010 to show the impact of 2.5 feet, 5 feet and 7.5 feet of flooding above mean high tide on the Eastie coastline.

“Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of coastal and riparian (river) flooding due to sea level rise and extreme weather events,” their report presented to the community said. “Astronomical high tides occur four to six times every year.  As the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt, we can expect coastal flooding events to become more frequent and more severe, even during this century.”

The tidal range (low tide to high tide) in Eastie is about 10 feet. When a storm hits the coast, how much flooding occurs is highly dependent on the tide height at the time the storm hits. For instance, if an extreme storm (5-foot storm surge) hits at low tide, there would be little or no flooding, since the total water height would be lower than the normal high tide.

However, if that same storm hits at spring tide (the highest of high tides that typically occurs twice a month), then we would experience an additional 5 feet of water on top of spring tide. In order to evaluate the worst-case scenario, the team assumed that an extreme coastal storm event occurs at spring tide, which means that the resulting flooding would be the most expansive.

Their maps were created to assess the areas that could be flooding under such conditions and shows a good majority of Eastie under water during the worse case scenario.

  • Jack Wolf

    Jenkins work is hard to argue with, but I bet a lot of people will. And, they always seem to scream “job killing” where rather the reverse is true.

  • JohnEnglander

    It is good to see some intelligent language about planning for the inevitable sea level rise. Sea level will just keep rising decade by decade now that the oceans are warmer and the ice sheets are in melt mode. Few see the extremely long term time frames involved with reversing sea level rise — on the order of centuries and millennia. Planning for storm surge and extreme tides on top of sea level rise would be a smart approach. As I pointed out in my recent book, HIGH TIDE ON MAIN STREET: RISING SEA LEVEL AND THE COMING COASTAL CRISIS, Boston is extremely vulnerable, but also has some rather special opportunities to engineer for higher sea level. One approach I described was developed in 1988, but still sits gathering dust. At some point the risk will cause the city to act. The sooner the better.

  • jc

    This prediction or study on sea levels rising in Boston Harbor and revealing a map of the hardest hit predicted potential flooded areas of East Boston if a similar hurricane to the one a year ago in New Jersey were to occur, this map is showing hardest hit areas, basically its just showing and scaring off future home investors to avoid East Boston all together.This is a scare tactic, people realize that easties waterfront is up and coming, and some will say or do anything to diminish it.

  • Canuck

    What people are forgetting with low-bank waterfront is that it’s essentially a lease of uncertain duration. It will have a decreasing value, not an increasing value. It’s ridiculous to pay for it as if it had permanent value.

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