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Preparing for Climate Change in Cambridge, MA: Using Science and Community Engagement

John Bolduc, Environmental Planner, Cambridge, MA
Monday, June 16 @ 3:45pm


Cambridge has been working since 1999 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. Now it is planning for the local impacts of climate change. The City’s first step in the effort is to conduct a rigorous and comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessment.

Cambridge is a small (6.26 square miles), densely populated (105,162 people) community divided between the Charles River and Mystic River watersheds. The city is home to world renowned institutions and is a global biotech center. The levels of the Charles and Mystics Rivers are regulated by dams, which also provide barriers to tides and surges. While Cambridge was historically connected to the sea before the dams were built, the city has not experienced storm surges. Due to the extensive impervious cover and constraints of the stormwater conveyance system, the city has experienced flooding from intense precipitation events and in the Mystic River/Alewife Brook area of the city, overbank flooding has occurred. The City is also concerned about heat vulnerability.

Previous studies of storm surge flooding associated with sea level rise have suggested that moderate increases in sea level coupled with large storm surges would overtop and flank the Charles River Dam. These studies have included “bathtub” analyses and also SLOSH modeling of extreme coastal storm events (i.e., hurricane inundation maps). However, the complexities posed by the dams and the complicated topography between the city and Boston Harbor raise questions about the results of the past analyses.

With growing concern in the community and beyond about risks of climate change, particularly storm surge flooding, the City commenced a climate change vulnerability assessment to develop a technical foundation for a climate change preparedness plan. The assessment incorporates various modeling efforts, including ADCIRC for coastal storm flooding, and utilizes the ICLEI ADAPT framework.

The City also believes it is critical to bring the community and key stakeholders along in the process of understanding Cambridge’s vulnerabilities. Therefore a robust stakeholder and community engagement effort has been made an integral part of the project.


Presentation Slides
8908 kb uploaded September 5, 2014 10:39am


Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment & Preparedness Plan