Central Park as a laboratory: how the New York landmark should help cities in the climate crisis

Central Park in New York is a popular destination. But he too faces growing challenges due to the climate crisis. A new research project aims to derive future-oriented solutions from the park’s problems.

Central Park in New York is considered the “green lung” of the US metropolis. Covering a total area of ​​3.41 sq km, it includes meadows, small wooded areas, a lake and several ponds. Not least thanks to this varied design, the park is also characterized by a remarkable diversity of species.

A refuge from the hustle and bustle of the big city, Central Park is popular with both New Yorkers and tourists. But it’s more than just a leisure activity – its diverse ecosystem could also help us better understand climate change in general and the challenges it poses to cities in particular. On this basis, new solutions could be developed for the climate-related problems of the future.

This is the approach adopted by the Central Park Climate Lab, founded in early 2022 and is a scientific project that sees the park as a large “climate laboratory”. It emerged from a partnership between the Yale School of Environment, the environmental organization of the New York Natural Areas Conservancy, and the Central Park Conservancy, aka the central park administration. The scientists involved want to study how current climate changes and extreme weather conditions are affecting the nature of the park and how plants and animals are able to adapt to these changes.

Central Park as a climate laboratory: research for the future

The Central Park Climate Lab investigates how the park’s nature is adapting to climate change.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / our little mouse)

The Climate Lab points out that city parks are just as vulnerable to climate change as other natural areas. They are repeatedly exposed to extreme weather events, such as heavy rain, extreme heat and cold, or strong winds. During Hurricane Ida, for example, which flooded much of New York in September 2021, 80mm of rain fell on the park area alone within an hour. Although such events are becoming more frequent, cities are often still overwhelmed. According to the Central Park Climate Lab, there are currently no uniform guidelines city governments can use to better protect park areas and prepare for climate change.

Climate Lab research aims to change this and, using the concrete example of New York, to develop results that can also be transferred to other cities and wider contexts. To this end, the research team intends to collect extensive data, based on both satellite images and ground-based measurements and observations. For example, the increasing or decreasing growth of trees should be monitored with special devices.

The questions that the Climate Lab asks itself in the context of these measurements are, for example: how much CO2 Can the park bind? How much refreshment does it offer not only to the people who visit it, but also to the residents in its vicinity? The research therefore goes beyond the mere description of the conditions and aims to help solve the problems caused by climate change. This includes balancing CO2 emissions through the trees as natural carbon storage or the cooling effect that plants can have on their surroundings.

Central Park Climate Lab as a project for other cities

Although the search will initially be limited to Central Park itself, there are already plans to expand it to other green spaces in the New York metropolitan area. The Climate Lab announces it on the park’s website. In the next course, similar projects will be implemented in other American cities. So far, however, there is no concrete information on which cities might be suitable.

Based on the data obtained and the preliminary work of other climate researchers, the laboratory wants to develop far-reaching strategies for urban space. They should both help mitigate climate change and facilitate adaptation to climate change that has already occurred. Cities outside the United States could also benefit from these achievements when designing their city parks in the future.

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