Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Super Fun Superfund: Polluted Protection Along the Gowanus Canal

    Author:
    Jessica Miller
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Gould
    Abstract:

    This research reflects on the patterns of uneven development occurring in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, social and physical changes taking place there, and how these elements of the canal relate to the changing purpose of urban waterways. Gowanus has mimicked the development of New York City since the 1600's through several phases: city settlement and development, abandonment, and redevelopment. The redevelopment phase in Gowanus couples environmental clean up with gentrification and displacement. Using an urban political ecology framework, this research attempts to answer the following questions: Why, after many years of pollution, is the area being cleaned up? Will this clean up process create new opportunities for gentrification in the area, or will it merely encourage gentrification that might already be taking place in the area? Who will benefit and who will be harmed through this process? To explore these questions, I conducted semi-structured interviews, shorter door-to-door interviews, transect walks and participant observation, archival research, and geographic information systems analysis. Through this project, I found that displacement is indeed occurring in the area as it gentrifies, with the potential for this process to increase as the clean up plans move forward. Further, it posits that environmental gentrification is the result of gentrification already taking place: establishing the ability for an area to be "worth" cleaning up. This research establishes the need for a time-lapsed approach to displacement research and builds on a growing literature on environmental gentrification.

  • In Harm's Way: How Philadelphia's Urban Renewal Practices Steered Marginal People to Marginal Land.

    Author:
    Katera Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Gould
    Abstract:

    The dumping of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) on marginal communities has been well documented, however environmental justice scholars have rarely written about how marginal groups have come to occupy their landscapes, particularly when natural hazards lie beneath. This dissertation research focuses on a broad definition of the environment that includes the built, social, and physical. I am interested in extending Logan and Molotch's Growth Machine theory to consider how the political and economic elite guided the urban renewal process to place particular communities on particular landscapes, despite the presence of a flooding hazard. To understand this issue, I examined how this process occurred in Philadelphia from the 1950s to the 1970s by developing a historical narrative that considers how decision makers, policies, residential demographic characteristics, and land quality came together to create a renewed community. This study analyzes the residential development of three sections of Philadelphia, Eastwick (southwest), Mill Creek (west), and Chestnut Hill (northwest). The major goal of this research is to explain who is more vulnerable to the natural phenomenon of flooding and why by considering settlement patterns and terrain. Using the research question what social processes led to the distribution of flooding risk in post-industrial Philadelphia? to guide my work. More specifically, by considering social systems and power relations, I analyzed the spatial and environmental impacts of urban renewal in Philadelphia; developed a framework for analyzing the processes that produce places; and provided insight into authentic community participation around managing urban environmental concerns. In a relatively short time, cities will experience many of the environmental problems associated with climate change. As municipalities move towards sustainability, comprehensive emergency preparedness will need to be considered beyond standard best management practices. Providing citizens with meaningful involvement in land use decision-making is crucial to finding authentically sustainable solutions to environmental hazards. This work makes three important interdisciplinary contributions, all of which are linked to the racialization of space. I contribute to urban studies scholarship by demonstrating how the growth machine creates a cityscape stratified by race and class. Second, I contribute to environmental justice research by firmly highlighting flooding vulnerability as an environmental justice issue and documenting the histories of marginal people on marginal land. Finally, I make a sound contribution to critical race studies when considering the long-term implications of race and space as it relates to structural inequality and social reproduction. In this dissertation, I examine the case of how people outside of the political and economic elite are relegated to landscapes prone to flooding. Drawing upon data collected using several different methods, I analyze the morphology of these landscapes and how these residents become passive users of their place rather than active shapers equipped to mitigate the hazards underlying their communities.

  • Does Geography Matter? Neighborhood Effects on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of NYC Public School Children after 9/11

    Author:
    George Musa
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    William Solecki
    Abstract:

    An epidemiological study was conducted six months after 9/11 under the auspices of the NYC Board of Education, to evaluate the impact of the World Trade Center attacks on children's mental health. A large representative sample of public school students in grades 4-12 (N=8,236) was screened for eight psychiatric disorders including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as various types of exposures to the 9/11, health problems, family circumstances, etc. Analyses of these data have indicated that being a student at a Ground Zero Area (GZA) school was not a significant risk factor for developing PTSD. These findings were contradictory to existing literature on PTSD. In previous PTSD studies, distance was not measured in fine scale (i.e., X miles from traumatic event), instead, arbitrary distance categories were used (i.e., was in school, was at home, etc.). For this study, Euclidian distance from the students' home zip code to their GZA schools, transportation distance and travel time have been calculated to help understand this phenomenon. Additionally, neighborhood variables (including socio-economic status (SES), residential mobility, safety, quality, and location-based physical exposure measures), as well as school environment and performance, are used to observe their potential influence.

  • Temporal and Spatial Variability of Metal Distributions in Staten Island Marsh-Creek Systems: Does Connectivity to the Arthur Kill Impact Anthropogenic Enrichment, Sediment Quality and Toxicity Potential in NY/NJ HE Marsh Habitats?

    Author:
    Caitlyn Nichols
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    William Wallace
    Abstract:

    The Arthur Kill is a polluted urban waterway situated between Staten Island, New York and New Jersey. It is unknown if this tidal strait serves as a significant source of trace metals to Staten Island marsh habitats, via redistribution and exchange, and thereby contributing to the substantial metal contamination found in sediments within these areas. Although loadings into the Arthur Kill have declined in recent years, the combination of historic impacts, modern point and non-point sources, and low flushing rates make this waterbody a sink for pollutants. Contaminated sediments are susceptible to remobilization via tidal action and shipping/dredging activities. Consequently, this may transport metals bound to suspended particles to neighboring areas, with subsequent uptake and toxicity to resident biota. The primary goals of this dissertation research was to characterize spatial and temporal trends in sediment metal (Cd, Hg, Cu, and Zn) contamination in salt marshes adjoining the Arthur Kill; and examine the distribution and tidal transport of pollutants between the Arthur Kill and upland marsh habitats along the western shore of Staten Island, New York. Insight concerning temporal and spatial change within marsh habitats will aid in tracking success of current water quality initiatives targeting this severely impacted waterway. Research into the exchange of metals in polluted estuarine areas similar to this system is essential from a restoration standpoint and is a crucial step in gaining an overall understanding of metal transport and redistribution within this highly industrialized and ecologically important system.

  • The Interfaith Center: The Construction and Consequence of Interfaith Space

    Author:
    Cristina Notaro
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Marianna Pavlovskaya
    Abstract:

    This project examines the social and cultural phenomenon of the interfaith center as an intentional response to religious diversity in the United States. The interfaith center is an effort of multiple religious and secular organizations and individuals with missions of social action, education, dialogue and relationship building. Centers are formed within the context of a local community, but include interactions on a regional, national or international scale and intersections into public, private, civic and religious spheres of influence. The interfaith center is a growing force in religious pluralism, playing a constructive role in the social and cultural processes of a community, the attitudes and perceptions of religious groups and the production of interfaith space. The interfaith center is producing physical and social space to act as a mechanism for social cohesion and a focal point for addressing social issues and building community relationships. This research is an examination of both the construction and the consequence of this place.

  • Health Exposure, Socio-Economic Vulnerability, and Infrastructure at Risk to Current and Projected Coastal Flooding in New York City

    Author:
    Lesley Patrick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Juliana Maantay
    Abstract:

    This work uses a GIS-based methodology to develop and map a composite physical exposure, social vulnerability, and critical facilities index for New York City populations exposed to the current and predicted 100- and 500- year coastal floods. The objective is to illustrate how sea-level rise may affect future 100- and 500-year coastal floods in New York City, how these changes in future flood scenarios will affect the number and distribution of people at risk and their associated physical and socioeconomic impacts, and how these impacts will vary among neighborhoods. Sea-level rise throughout the 21st century will result in increased flood exposure as current flood levels are achieved more frequently and new flood levels result in more widespread inundation. To increase the resiliency of coastal communities and allow populations to respond and recover to these hazards, it is important to develop a place-based understanding of how storm surge exposure, impacts, and community vulnerability will change over time. Both the physical and socioeconomic impacts of flooding events are often unevenly distributed, with socially vulnerable groups most likely to experience a disproportionate share of the detrimental effects. When both physical and socioeconomic vulnerability are present in combination, the risk to populations is exacerbated. Physical exposure, social vulnerability, and critical infrastructure are combined to form an overall storm surge flood risk index that characterizes site-specific neighborhood levels of risk to flood hazard. Results show that future sea-level rise will increase the population at risk to the 100- and 500-year coastal floods, particularly under scenarios of potential population growth and distribution in the coastal and near-coastal zones. New York City must consider sea-level rise in their long term planning efforts to make coastal communities more resilient to future flood hazards.

  • The Environmental Justice Implications of New York State's and New York City's Brownfield Policies

    Author:
    Michael Porter
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    William Solecki
    Abstract:

    This dissertation assesses the environmental justice implications of New York State and New York City laws designed to encourage the cleanup and remediation of contaminated and vacant properties, also known as brownfields. To do so, the dissertation asks three questions. First, do brownfield policies promote the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated sites in areas with predominantly poor and minority residents? Second, when brownfield development does occur in these neighborhoods, does it improve environmental conditions? And third, to what extent do brownfield policies offer residents, business owners, and others living, working, and playing near brownfield sites a voice in the remediation and development process? To answer these questions the dissertation uses a two-step, multi-scalar, and mixed-method approach. In the first step, the dissertation uses methods of randomization to describe the characteristics of populations and properties near sites enrolled in New York State's brownfield program at the scale of the city. In the second step, the dissertation investigates the impact of brownfield development in three case study neighborhoods -the Gowanus and East New York neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Melrose Commons in the Bronx. Through these analyses, the dissertation concludes that the environmental justice implications of New York State's and New York City's brownfield policies are uneven. While state and city policies may encourage development in areas with higher property values and a higher proportion of white and wealthy residents, for the most part, they have little impact in areas with predominantly poor and non-white residents. When brownfield development does occur in these neighborhoods, it tends to exacerbate existing environmental injustices. Although the clean-up and development of contaminated sites may protect human and ecological health within the site's boundaries, it often exacerbates environmental problems in the surrounding areas. City and state brownfield policies further exacerbates environmental injustices by providing few opportunities for nearby resident and business to influence remedial methods or future land uses. There are, however, exceptions to these findings. In neighborhoods with a history of community, comprehensive, and area-wide planning, brownfield policies are much closer to fulfilling the policies' stated ambition.

  • LONG-TERM WARMING AND THE SIZE AND PHENOLOGY OF LONG ISLAND SOUND PLANKTON

    Author:
    Edward Rice
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Gillian Stewart
    Abstract:

    In coastal ecosystems with decades of eutrophication and other anthropogenic stressors, the impact of climate change on planktonic communities can be difficult to detect. A time-series of monthly surface water temperatures in the Central Basin of Long Island Sound (LIS) from the late 1940s until 2012 indicates a warming rate of 0.03°C per year, with recent summer temperatures increasing most consistently. During this warming trend, the proportion of chlorophyll produced by smaller phytoplankton and flagellates appears to be higher during warmer summer and fall months, enabling an increase in annual chlorophyll despite static nutrient levels. The phenology of phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance also appears to have shifted. Relative to the 1950s, winter and spring chlorophyll blooms are reduced, summer and fall zooplankton size has decreased, the proportion of small zooplankton has increased, and summer zooplankton abundance is reduced. These changes have occurred despite a lack of evidence for increasing gelatinous zooplankton abundance, which has been suggested as a causal mechanism for reduced summer copepod abundance and enhanced summer/fall phytoplankton abundance in other systems that have experienced long-term warming. These changes confirm general predictions for the direct impacts of climate change on aquatic communities, but also highlight the important of indirect impacts due to altered trophic dynamics.

  • Developing geochemical proxies for a high resolution hydroclimate record in Mono Lake basin

    Author:
    Rahul Sahajpal
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Hemming
    Abstract:

    Abstract Developing geochemical proxies for a high resolution hydroclimate record in Mono Lake basin. by Rahul Sahajpal Advisor: N. Gary Hemming Hydrological fluctuations of Mono Lake, a terminal closed-basin lake in the western Great Basin, are related to the regional climate fluctuations. These hydrological changes lead to variations in paleosalinity which may be recorded at a high resolution by the geochemical proxies in the lacustrine Wilson Creek Formation sediments of the Mono Lake basin. Authigenic minerals like calcite and Mg-smectite in the lacustrine sediments record the fluctuations in the lake level through the last glacial period. During the course of this research project, I have developed leachable Li (hosted by the Mg-smectite) and other leachable ions as geochemical proxies for paleosalinity (and thus paleohydrology) in the Wilson Creek sediments. I applied a multi-pronged approach, including measurements of leachable ions. I followed these results and tested my hypothesis for their behavior by construction of empirical evaporation and mixing models using Geochemist Workbench and PHREEQC. I used this strategy to demonstrate that the freshening of Mono Lake during the last glacial period could explain the variations. These investigations in the Mono Lake basin have shown that leachable Li along with leachable ions like Ca, Mg and Sr closely follow the documented lake level based on stratigraphic and geomorphic evidence. The empirical models used to predict the geochemical evolution of Mono Lake with hydrological variations allow the accurate prediction of the behavior of authigenic mineral phases like Mg- smectite and the calcite proxy record for the paleolake level changes.

  • A Life-Time Mortality Risk Analysis and Cost-Benefit Analysis Associated With Asbestos Exposure From The Collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11: Does the Cost of US-EPAs Residential Dust Clean-up in Lower Manhattan Exceed its Benefit?

    Author:
    Benjamin Sallemi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Robert Nolan
    Abstract:

    Pursuant to the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, the presence of chrysotile asbestos in the dust plume raised concern about exposure to Search and Rescue workers, Clean-up and Recovery workers, and Residential exposures that might result during the ground zero clean-up and removal efforts. Asbestos related air monitoring included Analytical Transmission Electron Microscopy (ATEM) analysis under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) protocol; Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) and ATEM measurements on the same filters; and Phase Contrast Microscopy Equivalent (PCMe) using ATEM. This study focused primarily on the exposure of emergency responders, clean-up workers, and residents to the presence of asbestos, taking asbestos fiber-type and size into consideration. The three exposure scenarios evaluated show that cumulative residential exposures ((0.02 asbestos fibers per milliliter-year (af/mL-yr)) were the greatest, followed by Clean-up and Recovery exposures (0.007 af/mL-yr), then Search and Rescue exposures (0.003 af/mL-yr), which shows that the lower residential dose over a longer period of time would result in a greater cumulative exposure then either the Search and Rescue, or Clean-up and Recovery scenarios. A risk assessment for the three cumulative exposure scenarios was conducted using the US-EPA's 1986 aggregate risk model which presumes equal potency for all asbestos fiber-types, and the 2000 Hodgson & Darnton model which considers the potency of differing asbestos fiber-types, and is more current with the historic epidemiologic literature. A marked difference between the US-EPA aggregate model and Hodgson & Darnton model exists with the later showing an approximate 240-fold decrease in risk for the lower Manhattan population when chrysotile fiber-type potency is considered. Using the calculated cumulative exposure data a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) was performed to show whether the social benefit associated with a reduction in the asbestos contaminant levels warranted the total cost of providing specialized equipment to lower Manhattan residents and remedial cost of conducting the US-EPA Residential Dust Clean-up Program. As expected, the CBA shows that the social benefits of averting asbestos-related morbidity and mortality outweigh the costs under the US-EPA's risk assessment protocol. However, using the Hodgson and Darnton risk assessment protocol, the benefits do not outweigh the risks and the US-EPA would have been expected not to provide specialized equipment to lower Manhattan residents or conduct the residential dust cleaning program.