CSI Interim President and geologist Dr. William J. Fritz has gathered an interdisciplinary group of faculty colleagues together to conduct long-term research on the impact of future superstorms in theNew York area.
Dr. Fritz, who serves as the spokesperson for the group, is joined by geologist Dr. Alan Benimoff, who has been using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze the role of urbanization in hurricane zones on the Island, and study post-storm surge and flooding data; Professor of Political Science Dr. Richard Flanagan, who has been “explaining to the press the political, intergovernmental, and leadership questions related to the impact of the storm and the recovery effort”; Finance Professor Dr. Jonathan Peters, who is investigating the economic impact of the storm and post-Sandy planning and re-zoning; and Vice President for Information Technology and Economic Development Dr. Michael Kress, who is employing the College’s state-of-the-art Interdisciplinary High-Performance Computing Center to develop and run the storm surge computer models.
Underscoring the importance of taking a multifaceted approach to this research, Dr. Fritz presented his Five-Point Plan at the Municipal Art Society conference, “The Road to Resilience” and at The New School and The Museum of the City of New York’s first installment of their Aftermath series entitled “The Future of Staten Island after Sandy.” The conference experience has informed the planning process for the College of Staten Island’s Superstorm Sandy Forum: “A Serious Conversation about the Future of Staten Island,” which was held on the CSI campus on March 8.
Dr. Fritz explains that “the common theme associated with every disaster I’ve worked with is geologists come in and predict what is going to happen [but people seldom listen or take any action]. My thinking was that we needed to broaden our research to have an interdisciplinary team—get a political scientist to ask what are the challenges, legal issues, and political implications of re-zoning, and an expert on finance to determine what are the economic impacts to the community. This has been evolving since Sandy happened, the need to make this a broader discussion…I want the conversation that we have on Staten Island to be an interdisciplinary one.”
Dr. Fritz has been working on the geological implications of future storms with Dr. Benimoff since Hurricane Irene hit our portion of the East Coast in 2011, and he called that storm a “wake-up call” to alert people to the fact that the hurricane belt does, indeed, reach far to the north of North Carolina. The scientists have also been busy developing an extended database and modeling system that blends with a system that was already in place for the southern portion of the East Coast, which was created at the Renaissance Center at the Universityof North Carolina.
“What we’ve done,” Dr. Fritz notes, “is taken data from the shipping charts and water topography of the New York area and blended it with the same North Carolina database. We think that we now have one of the most complete computer models for the Eastern Seaboard that goes from Connecticut as far south as North Carolina. That’s something that will be indefinitely refined as we get more and more data. For example, as a surge comes ashore, if you have a dredged shipping channel, that’s going to change the dynamics of the flow of the ocean. As you get more and more data, you continue to get a better model to predict exactly where the flooding will take place. The other thing I want to start doing is exploring “what if” models and say, suppose it was a Category 3 hurricane, but it hit as the tide was going out, so how does one water flow cancel out the other? We’ve just scratched the surface as to what we could be doing with those predictive models.”
Reemphasizing the importance of the interdisciplinary aspects of the research, he adds, “The other thing that I want to do is expand into is a conversation about re-zoning, about economic development, and protection of barrier islands and wetlands. So, I see this as being a long-term research project or series of research projects.
As the work continues, Dr. Fritz has so far been featured on a number of media outlets to discuss the group’s research, such as the Staten Island Advance, The New York Times, WABC-TV, The Huffington Post, CUNY-TV, and Staten Island Cable Television.