For a little over 160 years, the 843-acre green space known as Central Park has served as the lungs of New York City. The park is home to over 18,000 trees, including one of America’s oldest and largest standing elms.
But as the effects of climate change become increasingly evident, strange and extreme weather patterns have been reported inside the park. These included heavy rain, intense blizzards, high winds, and extreme heat or cold.
The Central Park Climate Lab — a collaboration between Central Park Conservancy and Natural Areas Conservancy non-profits — will use data from satellites and on-the-ground sensors to figure out how our changing climate is affecting the park.
Two key questions that need answering is: how much carbon does the park currently sequester and how much cooling relief does the iconic park offer to the city around it?
The hope is that finding these answers will help facilitate projects aimed at maintaining the health of other parks nationwide.
In 2020, New York City emitted a total of 56.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. Under the city’s net-zero carbon goal — which is formally known as the Diversified Pathway Project — this figure should drop to 6.7 million tonnes by 2050.
According to the Central Park’s website, the city’s trees are estimated to remove one million pounds of carbon dioxide each year, helping New Yorkers to breathe a little easier.
Central Park also plays a crucial role in keeping the city cool, which is important as urban areas experience higher temperatures due to the volume and density of heat-attracting materials like concrete and glass.
Since most New Yorkers live between 10–30 minutes from Central Park, scientists want to quantify how much cooling the green space offers for people who visit, as well as how far that cooling capability extends.
Karen Seto, professor of geography and urbanization science at the Yale School of the Environment said that it is clear cities will have a huge role to play in finding climate change solutions.
She continued by saying, ‘We’re hoping to inform policy in terms of how best to manage the assets here in the park … so that the green space can continue to provide cooling relief, cleaning air, etc.’
As major cities begin acknowledging their vulnerability to climate change, similar initiatives have been launched in other parts of the world. For example, London is currently undergoing a £600,000 rewilding project aimed at creating more green spaces and restoring the city’s biodiversity.
Sure enough, projects like the one in New York’s Central Park will shed light on the importance of filling cities with nature and methods we can use to protect such spaces in the face of climate change.
Let’s hope that The Central Park Climate Lab influences more cities to follow suit!