Fall 2022

Schedule of Workshops and Topics to be Covered

Unless otherwise specified, all will be online over Zoom and will run on Fridays from 5:00 – 6:30pm. Below is the approximate schedule of topics and due dates, subject to adjustment.

Drafted Capstone Workshop Syllabus and Mentor Onboarding

  • Weekly, Fridays 5PM-6:30PM (likely ending by 6:15PM)
  • All meetings with the exception of midyear presentations will be online.
  • Friday, September 9th (students and mentors)
  • Individual introductions (pecha kucha style): each student/mentor please say your name, where you’re from, academic background, capstone project, what you hope to get out of the project, what you see as a potential challenge to meeting your project goals, and one item from the readings you found uniquely compelling (readings are those on teamwork dynamics) 
  • A review of the syllabus and expectations for mentors as well as students
    • Minimum 25 pages in final paper per group member (not including appendices/ bibliographies)
    • Group members may receive different grades 
    • Must produce new deliverables that build on a literature review of existing research (examples of what is and what is not enough)
    • Review of drafted, optional grading rubric for mentors
    • Review of CUNY academic integrity policy

Finally each student will workshop a personal writing sample (no more than one page) from another class with another student selected at random.

  • September 16th 
  • Back to Basics! Background research/literature review and healthy citation management
  • The benefits of diagramming your research project
  • Assignment #1: Diagram your project for next workshop as a group and be ready to discuss it (see site resources for various software you might want to use)
  • September 23rd
  • Diagram discussions from each group and conversation 
  • Back to Basics! What makes a good paper? 
  • Project Management Logs
  • Description of Assignment #2: 3 Annotated Unique Bibliography Entries from Each Group Member (due the following Wednesday)
  • Description of Assignment #3: A group PML entry (due the following Wednesday) 
  • September 30th
  • Discussion of annotations from each student in breakout groups as teams
  • Back to Basics! What makes a good presentation?
  • Description of Assignment #4: For next class, each student should prepare a 5 minute, scripted lightning talk (with slides) on one of the key resources for their background research/literature review. Students should be prepared to give feedback on presentations next class. Scripts should be submitted ahead of the workshop. 
  • October 7th
  • Lightning talks and feedback
  • October 14th
  • Lightning talks and feedback
  • Description of expectations for mid-year written report and for mid-year presentations
  • Students should bring a personal writing sample (no more than 1 page) next week to workshop to discuss in small groups of ~3.
  • October 21st
  • Back to Basics! Research methods
  • Description of Assignment #5: For next class, each group should be prepared to discuss what research methods their project might use and why. Students should be prepared to give feedback. 
  • Small group writing workshop.
  • October 28th: No workshop
  • November 4th: No Workshop
  • November 11th
  • Research methods discussion from each team
  • Description of Assignment #6: Mid-Year Presentation Drafts. Each group should prepare a maximum of a half hour talk on their work so far (each group member should speak) and we will have one or two talks per week. This is considered a longer “rough draft” of the mid year presentation.
  • November 18th
  • Open Workshop: Come with questions, writing, etc. but attendance is not required.

(November 25th: College Closed, no workshop)

  • December 2nd (Mentors welcome) 
  • Midyear draft presentations
  • December 9th (Mentors welcome) 
  • Midyear draft presentations
  • Final writing workshop in pairs

Wednesday December 14th: Mid-Year Presentations (9AM, the “Reading Day”) in Shepard 107.

30 minute maximum concise presentation from each group (aim for 20 minutes), 15-20 minutes of feedback and discussion.

Projects on Offer

1. Planning a Student-Led Environmental Audit of an NYC Public School

Led by Professor Yael Wyner (Science Education) with attached student Alex Klein

Recently, the Department of Education has launched several sustainability initiatives in order to help the city meet its goal of zero waste by 2030 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Some of these initiatives include school composting, the demand response energy efficiency program, rooftop solar panels, and annual sustainability project grants. The DOE has also signaled ecology (which may include access to school gardens and instruction on healthy eating habits) to be a key part of its sustainability initiative. 

While much work is being done, several significant barriers stand in the way of increased student engagement in these initiatives, especially in the elementary grades. For one, sustainability indicators often remain invisible to the teachers and student body. Thus, students have no way of understanding the progress of their school towards achieving zero waste or greater energy efficiency. Second, the demands and responsibilities of the school day often leave teachers with little to no time to engage students in activities which examine their environmental impact or place within a larger ecosystem. Finally but perhaps most critically, school sustainability initiatives do not necessarily put children in leadership positions which would give them ownership and agency in the process. 

A student-led environmental audit would aim to tackle these three barriers simultaneously. One, it would publicize the school’s environmental impact and initiate a narrative of change to motivate further improvements. Two, it would integrate environmental education into the learning day through cross curricular activities in science, math, social studies, writing, and literacy. Third, it would empower students to analyze their own impact and take on a leadership role to minimize it. Ideally, it would also broaden students’ awareness of the environment that surrounds them and the ecological connections outside the school walls. 

Some of the indicators examined by students could include output of trash, recycling, and compost; paper consumption; analysis of lunch menu items and student lunches; energy use including HVAC and lighting; student and staff transportation; and biodiversity on the school campus. The project could be extended through student-led projects to reduce waste or inefficiency or increase biodiversity. The curriculum would be designed to fit into one or more math, science, reading, or social studies units, as determined by the grade level and the needs and preferences of the teacher. If this were to be a school-wide project, multiple grades could address different areas: for example upper grades could look at waste, energy and electricity use while lower grades could tackle biodiversity and school lunches. 

The first phase of the project would involve collaborating with participating teachers to design the curriculum. The second phase would involve supporting the participating teachers while they implemented the curriculum. This support could also involve helping students gather and present data using a variety of tools. The final phase would involve analyzing the project’s success and planning for potential future implementation. The project will be advised by Professor Yael Wyner and will draw upon her curriculum for Unifying Life and Ecology Disrupted

2. MATERIALS RESILIENCY:  Impacts of Construction Materials on the Success of Resiliency/Remediation Plans

Led by Professor Susan Kaplan (Architecture)


Through research and analysis, the students will choose a specific resiliency/remediation project in the New York Metropolitan to focus upon. They will research the negative impacts that past climate events have had on New York City communities and what resiliency/remediation plans are being created to reduce the types of problems that occurred. The project will interject the importance of employing the most appropriate materials to support the creation of successful resiliency/remediation plans.


In the aftermath of climate events such as Hurricane Sandy, it has become obvious that New York City needs resiliency/remediation plans.  It has been established that communities of color and lower economic levels are more vulnerable to effects of climate events and less likely to be included in remediation efforts.

Remediation/resiliency plans often include evacuation procedures, energy access concepts, food and medicine distribution methods, and building redesign. 

Much has been researched and written relating to impacts of climate events and additional reasons for the need for resiliency. The connection between climate change, regenerative energy, and resiliency has been explored.  There exists vibrant advocacy for these topics. 

Although mold problems have been addressed, less attention is being paid to the other significant material related problems and solutions.  Material properties can directly tie into the resiliency considerations of water resistance, strength, and durability to name a few. There is also the potential for toxic materials to be dissolved and transmitted into water and soil during flooding.

More work is needed to better understand the relationship between materials and resiliency in order to create the most effective remediation/resiliency plans.

Background Research

  • Material Research
    • Gain general understanding of how material properties relate to potential impact of climate events
    • Choose specific materials that could be integrated into remediation and resiliency plans that could support strength, durability, and water/moisture resistance, etc.
    • Choose specific materials that could promote thermal comfort and withstand water and wind invasion without contributing to toxic water, soil, and air pollution
  • Community Research
    • Gain a clear understanding of dangers and issues facing vulnerable communities in the New York City region.
    • Explore the existing remediation and resiliency plans.
    • Contact advocacy and governmental groups working on resiliency issues.
    • Map out local vulnerable communities and find a local community that has established government and community support groups which are willing to work with students and can use the types of help that the students could provide toward better inclusion of materials related efforts.  

Suggested Approaches:  

Through research and working with government and local community explore the following: 

  • History of impacts earlier climate related events had on the community
  • History of what remediation and resiliency actions were or will be employed
  • Economic, social, and cultural aspects of the community and general demographics of the location.  Correlation between demography and  level of remediation/resiliency efforts.
  • Existing health problems and safety dangers. 
  • Details of existing remediation and resiliency plans to find missing material considerations.

Report and Recommendations 

  • Develop a report outlining research and other exploratory initiatives.
  • Make connections between the specific local problems and the larger issues of climate change, and resiliency. 
  • Make connections between remediation/ resiliency issues and material properties with suggestions for use specific employable materials
  • In conjunction with community organizations, decide what materials considerations need to be added to existing remediation/resiliency plans in order to to help provide successful outcomes.

3. Developing A Framework for Open Building Data

Led by Duncan Prahl (CUNY Building Performance Lab)


Develop a data ecosystem framework that can be used by local governments to organize building related data that is collected to meet various regulatory requirement (e.g., building permitting, health and safety, environmental regulations, regulated carbon emission, energy efficiency, etc.) and maximizes the value to all stakeholders (e.g., building owners, consultants, public agencies, policy analysts, first responders, public health, etc.).


Public agencies are a nexus of information about the plants, systems and component that are included in a building, yet most of this data is in image based files (i.e. pdf’s of drawing sets), highly siloed by agency, and is typically gathered for very specific purposes (e.g., tracking a project through the permit and inspection process, registering a cooling tower to track Legionella outbreaks, energy benchmarking compliance). US government agencies have developed numerous tools (e.g., the SEED platform, Audit Template, EPA Portfolio Manager, etc.) to facilitate managing building and energy data, and supports industry collaborations related to data exchange for buildings such as BuildingSync, BRICK, and Project Haystack. Building Departments or other government agencies are also responsible for managing compliance with building energy mandates such as energy benchmarking and periodic energy audits. Carbon Emissions related to operating a building are increasingly being regulated, and data collected from real time energy management systems can be used to track and predict compliance with the regulations in real time, when coupled with data about the various energy consuming systems in a building. 

Suggested Approaches:

(1)  Literature review.  Conduct a review of major cities that have enacted regulations that require data related to buildings top be provided to public agencies that are part of an open data system or are nominally open by use of an information request. How much is in a databased format? How much is in image based format?

(2)  Identify and Interview Stakeholders. Identify the key stakeholders in the lifecycle of a building. Who requests data about a building, and why? Who has to generate that data? What format is that data collected in? Who maintains that data, where is it stored, and how frequently is it needed or used? Who uses that data, and for what purpose? What data do stakeholders desire that is not readily accessible? What tools and systems do stakeholder use to manage their building data? What tools are available in the marketplace (open source or proprietary) that help stakeholders to gather, manage and distribute building related data?

(3)  Interpolation and Extrapolation. Based on the above, develop a framework for gathering, maintaining and distributing building related data that serves key stakeholders needs. Maximize the use of existing tools and data structures, identify key data interoperability challenges and barriers, and suggest or develop solutions. 

4. Digital Twins for a Portfolio of Buildings

Led by Duncan Prahl (CUNY Building Performance Lab)


Develop a set of building digital twins that enables the owner of a portfolio of buildings (e.g., a municipality, a real estate investment trust, etc.) to evaluate ongoing operational carbon emissions, forecast annual emissions, and make operational and capital improvement decisions to comply with regulations that limit building operational carbon emissions. 


Many cities are enacting building performance standards that regulate the operational carbon emissions from buildings (e.g., NYC Local Law 97, Washington State Clean Buildings Performance Standard, etc.).Building Owners Generally only have historical data to evaluate if they are meeting these standards. It is increasingly possible to generate energy models from data sources such as CityGML files, Building Sync files, and other data sources. These models can also be calibrated using data from Real Time Energy Management systems and interval energy consumption data. These data make it viable for a building portfolio owner to maintain a set of energy models and continually monitor and forecast energy consumption and carbon emissions. These models can also be used for ongoing operational and capital planning processes. 

Suggested Approach:

(1)  Literature review.  What is the state of the art related to building digital twins and building energy model generation, maintenance and use as a forecasting tool? What are the data sources that can be used to generate, maintain and operate digital twins? 

(2)  Identify Building Portfolio and Data Sources. Identify a public or private sector portfolio owner to develop a set of digital twins of representative buildings. Leverage existing data sources and other resources. 

(3)  Develop and Test Solution. Develop a set of digital twins and use historical data to evaluate ability to track and project compliance with building performance standards. Use known interventions in the portfolio (e.g., changes in operations, capital improvements made in energy systems, changes in building occupancy, etc.) to compare predictions to actual performance. Develop guidance for replication by others including resource needs (computational, staff) and value beyond carbon emissions (e.g., building permitting for retrofits, grid interoperability, demand response, energy procurement, carbon trading, etc.).

5. Cultivating Urban Wild for Urban Food

Led by Zihao Zhang, Ph.D. Assistant Professor in Landscape Architecture 


This student project will contribute to an ongoing research project based in the Spitzer School of Architecture that explores innovative robotic systems to produce food in urban ecosystems. Students will study the NYC food system and analyze the resources and opportunities to develop innovative models for urban agricultural practices in “leftover” spaces during urbanization. Students will design urban agricultural prototypes that can be replicated across NYC and other cities. 


The COVID-19 pandemic, the resultant supply-chain breakdown, and climate change have exacerbated the dysfunction of current urban food systems and exposed serious, complex food insecurity in US cities. Burgeoning community food gardens could both enhance urban food security and increase urban biodiversity to combat climate change. Urban community gardens, however, are often hands-on, grassroots “guerrilla gardens” maintained by individuals’ intense manual labor. Meanwhile, technological innovations target yield-driven, profit-driven large farms, and typically overlook small-scale, urban food gardens. Thus, urban communities lack adequate infrastructure and technology to sustain substantial agriculture that could potentially provide an alternative and sustainable food source. This research will design and pilot a climate-sensitive, innovative, urban food garden that synergistically integrates technology within urban ecosystems.

Suggested Approaches

  1. Study the urban food system from food production to distribution and consumption. Produce mappings to understand and illustrate these complex systems. 
  2. Analyze geospatial information and evaluate potential sites for new types of urban agriculture. Develop site catalogs to categorize these potential sites. 
  3. Design new urban agriculture prototypes that can leverage public resources and emerging technologies to engage a broader community to participate in urban agriculture. 

Pre-requisities/Ideal Team

The ideal team would be comprised of team members of mixed backgrounds: someone with architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, or industrial design background; someone with a background in planning and policy; someone with a computer science or engineering background (or has coding experience). Students with experience in gardening, farming, and urban agriculture are most ideal. 

6. Supporting Disaster Assessment and Infrastructure Recovery in Ukraine: Generating Actionable Information from Remote Sensing Datasets

Mentor: Prof. Kyle McDonald, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences


The objective of this project is to develop and provide remote sensing-based assessments to inform on damage location and extent, and provide associated information to aid in recovery efforts related to the crisis in Ukraine. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is in need of actionable geospatial information to assess damage and plan recovery efforts. This project seeks to address those needs.


The current crisis in Ukraine drives an urgent need for actionable geospatial information to address response and recovery issues associated with damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure and environment. Assessments of destruction are needed in urban and rural areas to evaluate damage extent and support a variety of needs, including those associated with debris removal and reconstruction. Urban recovery requires removal of debris as a first step. Debris includes material from destroyed and damaged buildings that can block the transit of and access by vehicles. In prior cases of large-scale urban damage, debris has commonly been collected by the military and subsequently discarded in nearby arbitrarily-selected sites such as waterways or abandoned fields. This waste material can contain contaminants that can leach into the soil and water supply and can pollute airways and thus create an ongoing threat to environmental and human health. A planned debris removal strategy is needed that addresses the need for expeditious removal of debris from destroyed and damaged buildings and infrastructure and that limits environmental impacts associated with debris disposal. In rural areas, in addition to assessment of damage to hard infrastructure, remote sensing can also support assessment of damage to agricultural fields from military ordnance and from heavy vehicular traffic. Such assessments provide actionable information for directing resources to re-establish agricultural production.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. Develop and/or assess maps of estimated damage using NASA-JPL’s Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) system, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data and interferometric SAR (InSAR) processing.
  2. Assess damage map accuracy using UNDP damage datasets and high-resolution satellite imagery.
  3. Assess remote sensing-based algorithms for improving characterization of damage in urban andrural settings.
  4. Develop a recovery strategy that addresses the need for expeditious recovery while minimizingenvironmental risk.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework to support analysis of remote sensing data.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Earth Science Section in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, and the United Nations Development Programme, Ukraine and New York.

7. Understanding and Predicting Dzud Events and Their Impacts in Middle and High Latitude Drylands

Mentor: Prof. Kyle McDonald, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Students will characterize dzud event risk and severity, assessing relationships between remote sensing

datasets (e.g. soil moisture, vegetation stress, landscape freeze/thaw state), dzud events, and associated socioeconomic impacts. Based on this analysis, students will develop an assessment framework for use in risk mitigation strategies. The understanding gained supports integration of physical and social sciences into decision making for anticipatory action.

Drylands in the middle and high latitudes have harsh environments with characteristically cold and arid

climates. The livelihoods of the people inhabiting these areas are threatened by constant climate-related natural hazards. Dzud is the Mongolian term for a natural disaster resulting from harsh winter conditions that reduce availability or accessibility of pastures, leading to an extensive loss of livestock/wildlife from either starvation or cold during the winter-spring. These events occur in grasslands and tundra in significant portions of the mid to high latitudes, covering approximately 45% of Earth’s terrestrial area. In Central Asia, these events have significant humanitarian impacts because they affect local livestock populations, especially in Mongolia where approximately 30% of the workforce is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods. In North America, these events are called winter kill, and they can result in massive die-offs of wildlife.

The current dzud early warning system in Mongolia has been in place since 2015 and is developed by the Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment (Mongolia) in collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan. However, fully characterizing summer and winter conditions associated with dzud risk has been a challenge, and false positives associated with prediction of dzud events are high.

This capstone study seeks to employ state-of-the-art remote sensing datasets collected from Earth orbit to develop risk and severity assessments for dzud events and associated socioeconomic impacts to inhabitants of dzud-prone regions. Initial emphasis will be on the dryland steppe of Mongolia where records of dzud events are available. Extension to other parts of the terrestrial high latitudes will include analysis of die-off events in North America.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. (i)  Investigate the relationship between dzud event occurrence, non-frozen season soil moisture (SM)conditions, vegetation water stress, and winter/autumn/spring freeze/thaw (FT) state conditions using remote sensing datasets, ground-based station data, and dzud occurrence data. NASA’s Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) mission provides SM and land surface FT state datasets beginning in 2015. NASA’s ECOSTRESS mission provides vegetation water stress and precision thermal data characterizing surface temperature for approximately the last three years. Explore the role of FT timing and past summer SM for different vegetation zones in Mongolia.
  2. (ii)  Produce remote sensing-informed dzud risk maps based on prior summer soil moisture, current freeze/thaw state conditions, and ancillary datasets through an analysis conducted in a GIS framework supporting multi-criteria decision analysis.
  3. (iii)  Extend results to the regions of the global middle and high latitudes.
  4. (iv)  Conduct risk and socioeconomic impact assessments.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.page1image34391168page1image34391360page1image34391552

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems group in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

Figure 1: Examples of the impact of a dzud event on livestock in Mongolia. These events can often claim millions of livestock a year, affecting people’s livelihoods in significant ways. (Photo Credits: Left: UNDP Mongolia / Flickr, Right: Gerry Shih, thestar.com)

8. Reducing human health risk and exposure to wastewater spills in urban coastal environments

Faculty Mentor: Prof. Kyle McDonald, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

The capstone team will employ remote sensing datasets from Earth-orbiting satellites to improve the understanding of Tijuana River discharge on water quality and associated health impacts in San Diego County, California. This project integrates aspects of remote sensing technology, public health and environmental justice.


The San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently declared that “pollution from the Tijuana River Valley [is] a public health crisis,” having led to 295 and 160 days of beach closures in Border Field State Park and Imperial Beach, CA, in 2020. In a 2017 case study, it was estimated that nearly 4% of 864,000 swimmers at San Diego beaches were sickened by a south-swell driven plume event containing massive amounts of untreated wastewater (Feddersen, et al., 2021). San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health and Quality (DEHQ) works to protect beachgoers while preventing unnecessary closures that could negatively affect their beach tourism economy. This project will explore ways in which remote sensing can be used to improve understanding of Tijuana River plumes and enhance this decision process of DEHQ to protectpublichealth. Further,thisprojectaddressobjectivesofdiversity,equityinclusionandaccessibility (DEIA). The coastal zone is considered a common-pool resource and access is becoming increasingly limited due to climate change (i.e., sea level rise, extreme weather), growing population densities, and other factors. This project will help improve access by helping reduce the number of beach closures and by protecting environmental and public health.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. Develop and validate Tijuana River plume product suite using optical (Landsat-8, Sentinel-2, Planet, DESIS); thermal (Landsat-8, ECOSTRESS), and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) datasets (Sentinel-1).
  2. Evaluate plume product relative to DEHQ Bay and Beach program decisions using previously collect in situ measurements of wastewater contaminants.
  3. Evaluate impacts on urban coast access and equity issues in a policy brief.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Earth Science section in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.

Feddersen, F., Boehm, A. B., Giddings, S. N., Wu, X., & Liden, D. (2021). Modeling untreated wastewater evolution and swimmer illness for four wastewater infrastructure scenarios in
the San Diego-Tijuana (US/MX) border region. GeoHealth, 5, e2021GH000490. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GH000490

9. Wildfire Impacts on Coastal Water Quality Collaborative

Faculty Mentor: Prof. Kyle McDonald, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences


The capstone team will assess impacts of the increasing prevalence of wildfire on coastal water quality and examine the intersection of associated wildfire impacts and stakeholder needs in California. This effort supports integration of remote seeing technologies, coast process science and social sciences related to climate change.


Wildfires in the western United States are expected to increase in frequency and intensity under a changing climate. There is an urgent need to quantify and anticipate wildfire impacts on aquatic ecosystems through changing watershed hydrology and nutrient transport, with coastal ecosystem response being particularly not well understood. This limited understanding of post-fire impacts on coastal water quality and infrastructure have resulted in challenges in local agency response and management. This project will help identify and explore post-fire monitoring protocols through the lens of space and airborne remote sensing, with the goal of improving understanding of watershed scale changes due to fire impacts after an event as well as supporting coordination efforts for monitoring post fire conditions and hazards.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. Develop and document understanding of stakeholder monitoring needs for post wildfire conditions and coastal impacts, in terms of datasets and technical capabilities.
  2. Review remote sensing assets that can complement and resolve coastal processes impacted by fires and develop exemplar case studies to show case capabilities.
  3. Report on opportunities at the intersection of remote sensing and post wildfire coastal monitoring and assessments in California.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Earth Science section in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

10. Assessment of Urban Heat Mitigation Strategies using Precision Remote Sensing of Thermal Signatures in New York City

Mentor: Prof. Kyle McDonald, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Objective:

This project will employ thermal infrared remote sensing to assess effectiveness of strategies employed to mitigate urban heat in New York City. The team will use precision remote sensing datasets from NASA’s ECOSTRESS sensor, a thermal imaging instrument flown on the International Space Station (ISS). Multi-year ECOSTRESS data will be examined to assess the effectiveness of heat mitigation strategies such as installation of cool roofs and street tree planting.


NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) is providing precision thermal images of Earth’s terrestrial environments. Although primarily intended to examine water use and water stress in plants, datasets from the ECOSTRESS thermal imaging sensor is proving invaluable in assessing the thermal environment in urban settings. Assessments of ECOSTRESS thermal images over Los Angeles, California have demonstrated substantial reduction in neighborhood heating as a result of installation of CoolSeal paint on street surfaces. New York City is identified as a priority target for acquisition of ECOSTRESS data for urban regions worldwide with specialized ECOSTRESS products being derived to examine the NYC thermal environment. New York City has benefited from several strategies associated with climate change mitigation. Among these are NYC CoolRoofs and NYC Department of Parks & Recreation’s MillionTreesNYC. The goal of this capstone project is to employ ECOSTRESS datasets to assess the effectiveness of such strategies.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. 1)  Assemble salient ECOSTRESS data into a data base focused on NYC and vicinity to support multi-year times series (2018- present) thermal environment assessment.
  2. 2)  Examine time series thermal signatures at the local, neighborhood, and city scale, and coordinated with timing of installation of white and green roofs, and with street planting,
  3. 3)  Assess changes in the spatio-temporal thermal signature across scales associated with these mitigation strategies.
  4. 4)  Examine these results in the context of addressing environmental justice concerns in NYC.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Earth Science Section in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.page1image34543232page1image34540160page1image34542848page2image49218368

Figure 1. ECOSTRESS is flown on the Japanese Experiment Module on International Space Station (https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov/mission).

11. CCNY Greenspaces Project

Led by Professor Stephanie Rose (Science Education)


To research the planting projects underway on the CCNY campus; propose additional planting spaces for the campus; and create some new planting spaces on campus with plans for how to sustain them.


CCNY would like to expand the planting spaces on campus. There is a need for research to create a proposal for where to locate these new planting spaces, what to grow, what materials are needed, and to plan for how to sustain these planting areas, in coordination with the Facilities Department on campus. The benefits of green spaces are manifold, whether for native plants, pollinator plantings, to increase absorption of stormwater runoff, and to make campus more enjoyable for the campus community.

Suggested Approaches

  1. (i)  Research the planting projects underway on the CCNY campus from street-level to rooftop projects, including plans to transform the rooftop of the Marshak Science Building. Survey the campus for potential new planting sites.
  2. (ii)  Create a proposal for more planting spaces including the costs, maintenance needs, and benefits of new planting areas. Present the proposal to the CCNY Facilities Director, David Robinson, for approval.
  3. (iii)  Coordinate and create some new planting spaces, along with signage about the spaces to share with the CCNY community. In addition, to document the trees on the City College campus and begin creation of a CCNY Tree Walk Guide.
  4. (i)  Research the planting projects underway on the CCNY campus from street-level to rooftop projects, including plans to transform the rooftop of the Marshak Science Building. Survey the campus for potential new planting sites.
  5. (ii)  Create a proposal for more planting spaces including the costs, maintenance needs, and benefits of new planting areas. Present the proposal to the CCNY Facilities Director, David Robinson, for approval.
  6. (iii)  Coordinate and create some new planting spaces, along with signage about the spaces to share with the CCNY community. In addition, to document the trees on the City College campus and begin creation of a CCNY Tree Walk Guide.

12. Civic Sustainability Messaging at CCNY Objective
To research, envision, and develop civic sustainability messaging for the City College of New

Led by Professor Stephanie Rose (Science Education)

York campus about both CCNY’s own sustainability efforts, as well as local environmental issues.
For critical sustainability goals to be met by countries worldwide, civic sustainability messaging needs to be looked at carefully as a vehicle for social change. There is a great opportunity for colleges and universities around the world to help lead the way with both sustainability efforts, and their messaging about those efforts. There are many universities and networks to collaborate with, such as the International Sustainable Campus Network (https://international- sustainable-campus-network.org/) and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (https://www.aashe.org/) which even has a ranking system for sustainability efforts on campuses. Here at the City College of New York, there are efforts underway to improve sustainability behaviors (https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/facilities/sustainable-outreach- and-education) But there is a great need for improved civic sustainability messaging at CCNY so

that all who are part of the CCNY community can be informed and participate in making more sustainable choices, and work together to lower the college’s carbon footprint, and eventually the carbon footprint for the whole CUNY system which includes 300,000 people (CUNY Conserves). Involvement in this project has many future applications in efforts to create more sustainable workplaces globally.
Suggested Approaches

  1. To research and document the sustainability initiatives underway at the CCNY campus through interviews with Facilities Director, David Robinson. To research how the CCNY campus is currently sharing information about its own, and other local, sustainability
    efforts through signage, electronic screens around campus, events, social media, and
  2. To research how college campuses across the country, such as the University of
    California campuses, share information with their campus communities to encourage more sustainable practices and behaviors. To envision the possibilities for improved civic
    sustainability messaging on the CCNY campus.
  3. To develop and curate environmental, biodiversity, and sustainability messaging for the
    CCNY campus as a pilot project; and to craft a proposal for how civic sustainability messaging could be expanded on the CCNY campus, as an example for the CUNY system.

13. Switching to 100% Renewable Energy in New York: A Policy-relevant Quantitative Analysis

Led by Professor Nir Krakauer (Civil Engineering) 

Objective:  Select a policy-relevant aspect of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy at the local and/or state level, conduct a technical analysis of the selected aspect, and prepare a report that captures the results.


Our society currently relies on energy derived from fossil fuels—primarily oil and gas. But there is much evidence that we have started into an energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy: solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric energy,  hydrogen/fuel cells, and geothermal energy. A number of factors are now contributing to the urgency and feasibility of this emerging transition to renewables—at the regional or state level in New York. Amidst visible signs of global warming and climate instability, climate scientists worldwide are supporting multinational efforts to keep the increase in the global average temperature to within 1.5 to 2.0 °C above pre-industrial levels. The efforts of Europe and other places—including California—to meet 100% renewable goals are attracting increasing attention in New York. Electrification is increasingly recognized for its efficiency and its lower levels of local air pollution—a leading cause of premature death. And some renewable energy sources are now getting significant boosts as a result of technical advances and falling costs.

This project will focus on identifying an important aspect of the transition to (or existence with, post-transition) 100% renewable energy, and on analyzing the selected aspect quantitatively.  The aspect selected should be influenced by or relevant to matters of policy. For example, it might relate to drop-in replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewable energy (considering energy generation, storage, and transmission); or to changes in technical configurations (e.g., smart grids, and demand management); or to broader social changes that could support use of renewable energy (e.g., walkable towns, non-personal-vehicle based transport, community-owned utilities, non-consumerist values, etc.).

Suggested Approaches:

(i)  Conduct wide-ranging research on issues associated with an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy. 

(ii)  In consultation with the faculty advisor, select a policy-relevant aspect of the transition to 100% renewables (or post-transition management of 100% renewables). The aspect selected should be one that lends itself to quantitative analysis and is in need of such analysis. And it should be of relevance to transition to renewables at the local or state level in New York. 

(iii)  Interact with stakeholders such as environmental policy/advocacy groups, community groups, government agencies, and utilities to get a better sense of analysis gaps.

(iv)  Design the quantitative analysis, considering factors including source(s) of data, scope of analysis, anticipated output(s), etc.

(v)  Perform the analysis and prepare a report capturing the results.

14. Environmental Impacts of Electric Vehicles 

Led by Professor Robert Paaswell (Civil Engineering)

Objective: The current planning of this Administration is to phase out all motor vehicles operated with carbon-based fuel and replace with Electric Vehicles (EVs). To that end pending federal legislation proposes to blanket the US with charging stations; meanwhile vehicle manufacturers are designing vehicles that can be charged at home. Are the current plans beneficial, harmful or neutral to the environment?

Background: The growth of motor vehicle use (in VMT, trips/person, MV/HH, etc.) since 1916 have been well documented. Since 1921 the Federal Government has subsidized road growth and the importance of State DOTs. In 1956 this support took a huge boost with the introduction of the Interstate Highway Program and the permanence of the Highway Trust fund. One of the results of motorization of the US was a dramatic shift in populations. In 1916, the US was primarily rural, with a large per cent of the population living in urban areas. The “highway programs” and the rapid growth of HH Car Ownership has led to a dispersion of population. Today, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas; the majority of people living in urban areas live in suburban (lower density) areas. This has led to unremitting congestion, extensive travel times and declining air quality. Is anything gained by trading a carbon fuel powered vehicle for an electric vehicle?


  1. Define the problem to be studied and develop the study objectives
  2. Examine ways to meet the objectives
    1. Literature search
    2. Consultation and lectures by experts
    3. Review of methods of analysis
    4. Review of Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA)
    5. Apply chosen methodology of analysis
    6. Develop criteria for accepting conclusions
  3. Develop impact statements for conclusions:
    1. Impact on population distributions
    2. Impact on mode choice and use
    3. Impact on the environment
    4. Economic impacts
  4. Develop proposed next steps, based on conclusions

Note: The transportation and planning literature is filled with studies of the impact of the highway program, methods of analysis and the results of BCA and impact studies. This project is asking the study team to use what is given as a starting point and forecast the future impact of a “new” mode – EVs, their acceptance and use. The problem is real, critical and of great importance.