NCSU Summary:

We began class with two student presentations, the first one about urban land cover patterns in relation to water quality. Scott Beck hypothesized that as impervious surfaces increases, surface water quality decreases, although there is some variation depending on the amount of grass cover (and Scott please correct me if I missed the point of your presentation). Then Julia Janaro presented on the need for urban planners to have eco-literacy in order to create sustainable urban designs. She hypothesized that the reverse also needs to occur where ecologists need to have design-literacy in order to work more interdisciplinarily towards sustainability.

Our class discussion before Dr. Yeakley spoke focused on the readings for the week and we determined that riparian protection legislation has actually helped to protect some riparian areas in the Portland/Vancouver area. Although there was still some riparian loss, the legislation limited the loss to only “acceptable” development that benefitted a majority of the community (i.e. public transportation expansion and public parks and schools). There was also a concern as to why there haven’t been more focus and studies on riparian wildlife and how they are affected by riparian loss or change?


Boston University - Class Summary

-We started by talking about the flows of Phosphorus and Potassium in the urban environment...

Phosphorus (P):
-Humans have tripled the amount of Phosphorus available because of fertilizer
-There is not a gaseous component - it is found in rocks
-Detergent and pet food are primary way in which it is introduced to the urban environment
-Human diet is also a primary cause of influx of Phosphorus
-65% imported Phosphorus remains in the city in landfills, septic systems, and sludge

Potassium (K)
-The cycle is almost entirely inorganic
-It's primary function is osmotic control (controlling water)
-Amount of K in soil is relatively small compared to other elements
-Potassium deficiency is most common in light, sandy soils in which the solubility of K causes it to leach from soils
-There are not big inputs of K (possible bananas or coconut water though?)


Dr. Alan Yeakley
Professor at Portland State University and head researcher of the Portland-Vancouver ULTRA (Urban Long Term Research Area).

Governing Questions:
  • Do differences in levels of governance affect the resilience of urban ecosystems?
  • How do various types and methods of monitoring and governance policies affect ecosystems?

Objective: determine the extent an rate of riparian buffer loss in urbanizing areas under various regulatory frameworks in Oregon and Washington cities for 1990-2008.
- Methods include: Aerial resolution photos, vegetation cover analysis (amount & type), digitization of change over time, analysis of patch change

Washington is more pro-urban growth, whereas Oregon has urban growth boundaries to contain the sprawl/development.
- Urban growth boundary effect: Up to an 86% population increase observed
Project Scale:
- Riparian greenspace management
- Stormwater and green infrastructure
- Water quality

Definition of a "patch" of trees: Trees within 5 m of one another are considered a patch.

Findings:
  • Riparian loss, evident in 1990s, slowed down in the 2000s for the 5 of the 6 urban areas studied due to local governance and more sustainable land-use planning.
  • Some cities saw better effects with governance
  • Land use planning strategy affects urban ecosystem integrity
    • Multiple pathways to affect
  • Monitoring ecosystem does provide feedback loop
  • Large portion of losses in riparian areas around rivers
  • Oregon cities approved cutting down riparian areas for new development


Boston University - Post-Yeakley Lecture and Discussion

We quickly discussed Boston's sewage disposal process. We looked at a schematic diagram of how the Boston sewage system is a combination of domestic waste, surface runoff and water added from drains on city streets that flows through old underground tunnels. If water and sewage flows are relatively low then the system works as intended and the waste + sewage water mixture proceeds to the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant. However, if there is torrential rainfall or rapid runoff from the street, the waste water will increase and breach a containment barrier and flow directly into local waterways. In Boston's case, this waste water goes directly into the Charles River! Some of these overflow pipes have been sealed or are going to be sealed in the future. However, the pipes around the Boston University campus along the Esplanade are projected to remain open. Measures can be taken to reduce this. For example, planting vegetation to slow the flow of water around the water intakes.


The class then went on a "field trip" to the Esplanade along the Charles River to view the pipes and discuss some of the ecological issues surrounding this green space in the midst of Boston's urban corridor. We looked at the state of the esplanade and learned that nearly all of the grass lies on top of impermeable, tightly packed soil. Fencing off areas of grass was brought up as a possible but infeasible solution. We also discussed the shoreline of the Charles River as a nursery for fish, a habitat for birds, and the consequences of leaf removal in this area.


Blogs:

Ryan Foley

http://www.epa.gov/region1/charles/initiative.html

Apparently by now the city has cleaned up its act. 99.5% overflow reduction by 2013? We should have gone on a swimming field trip!


Sravya:
It was really nice to be able to take stroll down the Charles River with Dr. Yeakley. In particular, I was really surprised to hear that the soil in the esplanade area is so compacted that it can be thought of as impervious; a problem that does not have any ready solutions. Additionally, we learned from Evan that the plant removal and maintenance the esplanade has more layers that simply ridding the area of invasive species. Apparently, the shrubbery is also problematic because it blocks the direct view of this area, and this is now a concern given the recent incidences of sexual assault. This is a social factor that I had never considered before.

Katy Lawless

I really enjoyed Alan Yeakley’s presentation this week. It was great seeing the results of his study. It is inspiring to see that governance and land-use planning can slow ecosystem loss. I also enjoyed the field trip we took at the end of class. We talked a lot about the importance of the Esplanade. That area is obviously an important habitat for many organisms. We discussed how the soil is so densely packed it is impervious, and therefore not much different from pavement. Someone had brought up the idea of hypothetically building over the river. Although the Esplanade may not provide as many ecosystem services as similar ecosystem outside of the city, it is aesthetically pleasing to residents. I believe that people value that area because it represents what little bits of nature of found in the city. Even though people may not understand or be aware of the ecological services of this area and value it for this reason, they still value it.

Michelle Predi:

https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Charles%20River%20Esplanade%20Study%20Report,%20as%20amended_tcm3-12653.pdf

Above in an article I found a few days after our walk around the Esplanade. I know that when we went out on our walk, many of us pointed out how some of the design features of both the Esplanade and the Charles seemed counter intuitive. However, I think that it is extremely important to remember that many of these aspects should be viewed as inherited landscapes, ie. the Charles design is due mainly to the former dams that once powered mills and other industries along the river. The above document offers a comprehensive history for anyone who is interested!

Toby Fusco:

As we walked along the Esplande talking about the ecology of the area and the Charles River, Lucy asked Alan Yeakley an interesting question which I found very relevant to me and my experience through this course on urban ecology. The question was something along the lines of how did a natural scientist (Dr. Yeakley is a hydrologist) become involved or interested in this interdisciplinary field of urban ecology. He discussed his path and how he made the transition. We also discussed how social scientists approach this field from a different view point. Lastly, we discussed who has an easier time learning and acclimating to the new disciplines: social or natural scientists.

Personally, I have found it difficult as a natural scientist to get accustomed to the social side of the issues we have discussed throughout this course. Being a meteorologist, I have no real training in incorporating social aspects into that branch of science. Climatologists and studying climate patterns and changes in climate (which is my potential direction at BU) have much more to consider when it comes to social issues and the science. It just made me think that maybe I need to work on this overlap between natural and social science a bit harder. Interdisciplinary studies seem to be the new wave of the future and perhaps putting all your time and effort into one field or exclusive discipline is not the best thing to do. It's better to have berth and depth is what I got from that discussion which I think will benefit me in the future.