Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PS 45-106: A case study: Modeling future impact of factors related to global climate change on coastal cities

Katrina A. Strauss and Judy D. Parrish. Millikin University


A case study was developed to help students learn about global warming and local environmental issues using the events of Hurricane Katrina as the case. Students analyze different points of view on rebuilding a neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, including scientific and social perspectives. A simplified mathematical model of global warming factors has been developed using STELLA Systems Thinking Software (isee Systems) and published data on pertinent parameters. The model exposes students to how scientists use models to make predictions based on past trends and mathematical calculations. Different scenarios of present and future anthropogenic factors of climate change can be assessed. In addition, wetland loss, hurricane storm surges, sedimentation, and risk management within the city can be analyzed using the results of the model to show how climate change can impact a coastal city such as New Orleans.  The central questions posed to students are: Should we rebuild New Orleans? What can society and individuals do to protect our coastal cities from another disaster?


According to the model, if carbon dioxide increases by 100 ppm, temperatures will rise by 1.4°C and sea level may rise by 0.171m. With the data, students can assess the impact of rising sea-level on the city’s flood protection system against future storms that are similar or worse than Hurricane Katrina. The effects of other changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, habitat modifications, and flood control measures can also be fitted into the model.  The case study and model is adjustable and can be used in a variety of disciplines including biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and social studies. A simplified version may be used if the STELLA software is not available in the classroom.  Teachers can decide which factors to focus on based on their subjects and grade levels. It may be used for many topics including greenhouse effect, ocean or atmosphere science, nature of science, models, environmental justice, ocean chemistry and density, political science policy, and/or current events.