NCA Education Resources for the Northeast Region

"Heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise pose growing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. Many states and cities are beginning to incorporate climate change into their planning." National Climate Assessment, 2014

The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the team themselves and not necessarily, NOAA, or USGCRP.


Tamara Ledley, TERC, CLEAN Network

Ingrid H.H. Zabel, Paleontological Research Institution,

Jane Heinze-Fry, Museum Institute for Teaching Science

Rachel Connolly, National Center for Science Education

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

Through its Our Changing Climate section and Climate Science Supplement sections, the NCA contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science. This content will support the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into science education.  The NGSS also asks educators to raise the teaching of engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. In the Adaptation and Infrastructure sections of the NCA, educators can find information on climate-related problems and solutions, including those that draw on engineering design. The Decision Support section provides information on how decision makers across the country are using climate information to prepare for the impacts of climate change that affect where they work and live.

This webpage features key figures, related resources, and lesson plans, videos and visualizations reviewed by CLEAN for all the NCA key messages for the region.  The page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications of climate variability and climate change for Northeast region.

NCA Northeast Region Report and Highlights



Región Nordeste (Spanish translation)

NCA Key Message 1: Climate risks to people

visit the full Climate risks to people page

Heat waves, coastal flooding, and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the region’s environmental, social, and economic systems. This will increase the vulnerability of the region’s residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations.

1. Guiding Questions

  • How does the “urban heat island” effect have the potential to harm vulnerable populations in the Northeast? What are some predicted negative effects to human health?
  • In what ways are changes in climate predicted to affect human health? What are some potential short and long term effects?
  • How could infrastructure, homes, and businesses be damaged by extreme weather events in the Northeast? What is one reason that many individuals in the Northeast are particularly vulnerable to these occurrences?

2. Key figures

Urban Heat Island
Surface temperatures in New York City on a summer’s day show the “urban heat island,” with temperatures in populous urban areas being approximately 10°F higher than the forested parts of Central Park. Dark blue reflects the colder waters of the Hudson and East Rivers. (Figure source: Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University).


Projected Increases in the Number of Days over 90 degrees F.
Projected number of days per year with a maximum temperature greater than 90°F averaged between 2041 and 2070, compared to 1971-2000, assuming continued increases in global emissions (A2) and substantial reductions in future emissions (B1). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

Climate Change Projected to Worsen Asthma
Projected increases in temperature, changes in wind patterns, and ecosystem changes will all affect future ground-level ozone concentrations. Climate projections using an increasing emissions scenario (A2) suggest that ozone concentrations in the New York metropolitan region will increase because of future climate change. This figure shows the estimated increase in ozone-related emergency room visits for children in New York in the 2020s (compared to the mid-1990s) resulting from climate change related increases in ozone concentrations. The results from this modeling exercise are shown as a percent change in visits specifically attributed to ozone exposure. For example, the 10.2% increase in Suffolk County represents five additional emergency room visits that could be attributed to increased ozone exposure over the baseline of 46 ozone-related visits from the mid-1990s. In 2010, an estimated 25.7 million Americans had asthma, which has become a problem in every state. (Figure source: Sheffield et al. 2011137). Figure is from general human health section.

3. Other Resources

References a and b taken from the National Climate Assessment footnotes

a. Sheffield, P. E., J. L. Carr, P. L. Kinney, and K. Knowlton, 2011: Modeling of regional climate change effects on ground-level ozone and childhood asthma. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41, 251-257, doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2011.04.017 This resource projects future pediatric asthma emergency department visits associated with ground-level ozone changes, comparing 1990s to 2020s. Ozone is the air pollutant most consistently projected to increase under future climate change.

b .Bacon, R. Murphree, K. J. Kugeler, and P. S. Mead, 2008: Surveillance for Lyme disease--United States, 1992-2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 57, 1-9. This resource reports the incidence of Lyme disease 1992 - 2006 and the need for public health action regarding this tick-borne disease.

c. Responding to Climate Change in New York State Synthesis Report
At this site you can download a pdf of the ClimAID Synthesis Report. On pages 44-47 you can learn how climate change affects public health and about potential adaptation options.

Level: Middle and High School, College

4. Lesson Plans

Urban Heat Island
In this activity, students learn about the urban heat island effect by investigating which areas of their schoolyard have higher temperatures - trees, grass, asphalt, and other materials. Based on their results, they hypothesize how concentrations of surfaces that absorb heat might affect the temperature in cities - the urban heat island effect. Then they analyze data about the history of Los Angeles heat waves and look for patterns in the Los Angeles climate data and explore patterns.

Level: Middle, High School

Direct Link

5. Videos

Energy 101: Cool Roofs
This introductory video covers the basic facts about how to keep residential and commercial roofs cool and why it is important to reducing the heat island effect and conserving energy.

Level: Middle, High school

Chicago fights extreme urban heat with greener ideas
Note: this video does not focus on a city in the Northeast, but the concepts apply.

As a segment in PBS's Coping with Climate Change series, Hari Sreenivasan reports on the actions the city of Chicago is taking to mitigate climate change in an urban landscape.

Level: Middle and High School, College

Climate Wisconsin: Extreme Heat
Note: this video does not focus on a city in the Northeast, but the concepts apply.

This short video addresses the effects of heat waves on human populations, with African American residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the visual subjects. The narrative is done by a young spoken- word artist.

Level: Middle and High School, College

Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
In this video, several scientists identify and describe examples of increasing health problems that they believe are related to climate change.

Level: High School, College

NCA Key Message 2: Stressed Infrastructure

visit the full Stressed Infrastructure page

Infrastructure will be increasingly compromised by climate-related hazards, including sea level rise, coastal flooding, and intense precipitation events.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What types of facilities are likely to be impacted by climate-related hazards? How and why could these events affect the entire economy of the Northeast region?
  • What are the important sectors impacted by sea level rise and coastal floods? Briefly describe the negative effects. What are some potential adaptation actions that could help mitigate these effects?
  • Why is the transportation sector especially vulnerable? Why is ocean water so dangerous to infrastructure, for transportation and other sectors as well?

2. Key figures

Sea Level is Rising
(Map) Local sea level trends in the Northeast region. Length of time series for each arrow varies by tide gauge location. (Figure source: NOAA1). (Graph) Observed sea level rise in Philadelphia, PA, has significantly exceeded the global average of 8 inches over the past century, increasing the risk of impacts to critical urban infrastructure in low-lying areas. Over 100 years (1901-2012), sea level increased 1.2 feet (Data from Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level).

Hurricane Irene and Flooding in the Northeast

Flooding and Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene over the Northeast on August 28, 2011. The storm, which brought catastrophic flooding rains to parts of the Northeast, took 41 lives in the United States, and the economic cost was estimated at $16 billion.2 (Figure source: MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite).

Coney Island After Hurricane Irene
Flooded subway tracks in Coney Island after Hurricane Irene. (Photo credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York 2011).

Coastal Flooding Along New Jersey’s Shore
Predictions of coastal erosion prior to Sandy’s arrival provided the region’s residents and decision-makers with advance warning of potential vulnerability. The map shows three bands:

  • collision of waves with beaches causing erosion on the front of the beach;

  • overwash that occurs when water reaches over the highest point and erodes from the rear, which carries sand inland; and

  • inundation, when the shore is severely eroded and new channels can form that lead to permanent flooding.

The probabilities are based on the storm striking at high tide. For New Jersey, the model estimated that 21% of the shoreline had more than a 90% chance of experiencing inundation. These projections were realized, and made the New Jersey coastline even more vulnerable to the nor’easter that followed Hurricane Sandy by only 10 days. (Figure source: ESRI and USGS 20121).

Table 16.1: Impacts of Sea Level Rise
Impacts of sea level rise and coastal floods on critical coastal infrastructure by sector. Sources: Horton and Rosenzweig 2010, Zimmerman and Faris 2010, and Ch. 25: Coasts

Note: after going to link click on grid symbol to left of title to see table.

Hurricane Sandy Causes Flooding in New York City Subway Stations
The nation’s busiest subway system sustained the worst damage in its 108 years of operation on October 29, 2012, as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Millions of people were left without service for at least one week after the storm, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rapidly worked to repair extensive flood damage (Photo credit: William Vantuono, Railway Age Magazine, 20121).

Tropical Storm Impact on Vermont Road
Vermont Route 131, outside Cavendish, a week after Tropical Storm Irene unleashed severe precipitation and flooding that damaged many Vermont roads, bridges, and rail lines. (Photo credit: Vermont Agency of Transportation).

3. Other Resources

Maryland Port Administration, 2008: The Economic Impacts of the Port of Baltimore. 39 pp., Martin Associates, Lancaster, PA. The purpose of this study is to quantify the economic impacts generated by the cargo and vessel activity at the marine terminals of the Port of Baltimore.

The Flood Next Time
An article from the New York Times on sea level rise and its effects on communities on the mid-Atlantic coast.

Level: Middle and High School, College

Surging Seas: interactive sea level rise map
An interactive map from Climate Central that lets you see the effect of different water levels on several coastal cities in the Northeast (as well as the Southeast, and West.)

Level: Middle and High School, College

4. Lesson Plans

Thermal expansion of water
This is a short experiment to demonstrate the concept of thermal expansion of water when heated, as an analogy to thermal expansion of oceans due to global warming.

Level: Middle School

5. Videos

Floating Architecture: Preparing for a Life on Water
This slideshow lays out a photo story with short descriptions of how city buildings all over the world are taking climate change and rising sea level seriously, designing structures that can react to unforeseen changes. As sea levels continue to rise, architects design ways to live with the rising water.

Level: Middle and High School, College

NCA Key Message 3: Agricultural and Ecosystem Impacts

visit the full Agricultural and Ecosystem Impacts page

Agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised over the next century by climate change impacts. Farmers can explore new crop options, but these adaptations are not cost- or risk-free. Moreover, adaptive capacity, which varies throughout the region, could be overwhelmed by a changing climate.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are the current and potential future climate-caused challenges faced by farmers in the Northeast? Why is agriculture in the Northeast especially vulnerable?
  • What types of crops are especially at risk?
  • Why are weeds and pests predicted to flourish, leading to crop damages?
  • What effects on ecosystems have already been observed? What are several predicted future effects?
  • What may happen to the Chesapeake Bay as climate change continues? Why is this concerning for the entire region?

2. Key figures

Figure 2.17: Observed Changes in Very Heavy Precipitation
Percent changes in the annual amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events, defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events from 1901 to 2012 for each region. The far right bar is for 2001-2012. In recent decades there have been increases nationally, with the largest increases in the Northeast, Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeast. Changes are compared to the 1901-1960 average for all regions except Alaska and Hawai‘i, which are relative to the 1951-1980 average. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation
The map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States. These trends are larger than natural variations for the Northeast, Midwest, Puerto Rico, Southeast, Great Plains, and Alaska. The trends are not larger than natural variations for the Southwest, Hawai‘i, and the Northwest. The changes shown in this figure are calculated from the beginning and end points of the trends for 1958 to 2012. (Figure source: updated from Karl et al. 2009).

Figure 8.4: Biological Responses to Climate Change
Map of selected observed and projected biological responses to climate change across the United States. Case studies listed below correspond to observed responses (black icons on map) and projected responses (white icons on map, italicized statements). In general, because future climatic changes are projected to exceed those experienced in the recent past, projected biological impacts tend to be of greater magnitude than recent observed changes. Because the observations and projections presented here are not paired (that is, they are not for the same species or systems), that general difference is not illustrated. (Figure source: Staudinger et al., 2012).

Coastal Ecosystem Services
Coastal ecosystems provide a suite of valuable benefits (ecosystem services) on which humans depend for food, economic activities, inspiration, and enjoyment. This schematic illustrates many of these services situated in a Pacific or Caribbean island setting, but many of them can also be found along mainland coastlines. Not specific to the Northeast, but still relevant.

3. Other Resources

Freidline, A., 2011: Rain cuts early volume, delays summer harvest. The Packer, Message 4: Planning and Adaptation. Report of torrential rains delaying plantings and reducing harvests in New York.

Paradis, A., J. Elkinton, K. Hayhoe, and J. Buonaccorsi, 2008: Role of winter temperature and climate change on the survival and future range expansion of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) in eastern North America. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 13, 541-554, doi:10.1007/s11027-007-9127-0. This article suggests that warming temperatures are likely to increase the range of the hemolock woolly adelgid.

Farming Success in an Uncertain Climate
Information on farming in a changing climate from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University

Level: Middle and High School, College

Climate Change Bird and Tree Atlas
At this website you can access atlases that document the current and possible future distribution of 134 trees species and 147 bird species in the Eastern United States and give detailed information on environmental characteristics defining these distributions.

Level: High School and College

4. Lesson Plans

Maple Syrup Sap Flow
This interactive shows the impact of a changing climate on maple syrup sap production. Students can explore the changes in production under two different emissions scenarios.

Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

Direct Link

Analyzing the Data: It's time to tell the story about Buds, Leaves and Global Warming
In this activity, students explore how, in New England, the timing of color change and leaf drop of deciduous trees is changing.

Level: High School

Direct Link

5. Videos

Feeling the Sting of Climate Change
This video on phenology of plants and bees discusses the MODIS satellite finding that springtime greening is happening one half-day earlier each year and correlates this to bee pollination field studies.

Level: Middle and High School

NCA Key Message 4: Planning and Adaptation

visit the full Planning and Adaptation page

While a majority of states and a rapidly growing number of municipalities have begun to incorporate the risk of climate change into their planning activities, implementation of adaptation measures is still at early stages.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What steps have Northeast states taken to ensure that climate change is addressed in policy? How have cities planned for imminent climate hazards? What are examples of specific adaptation projects.
  • What are the most crucial factors to be considered and included when developing a successful mitigation plan?
  • What barriers to implementation may be faced?

2. Key figures

Connecticut Coastline and Expanding Salt Marshes
The Nature Conservancy’s adaptation decision-support tool ( depicts building-level impacts due to inundation (developed land cover, yellow areas) and potential marsh advancement zones (undeveloped land cover – currently forest, grass, and agriculture – blue areas) using downscaled sea level rise projections (52 inches by 2080s depicted) along the Connecticut and New York coasts. (Figure source: Ferdaña et al. 2010, Beck et al. 2013).

Storm Surge Barrier
Conceptual design of a storm surge barrier in New York City. (Figure source: Jansen and Dircke 2009).

3. Other Resources

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience
A 2013 study by the Army Corps of Engineers, showing a wide array of human-made and nature-based adaptation methods to protect the East coast.

Level: High School and College. Some of the language may be overly technical, but the tables are useful for getting an overview of adaptation measures that the Army Corps of Engineers is considering.

Georgetown Climate Center, 2012: State and Local Adaptation Plans. The nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center seeks to advance effective climate, energy, and transportation policies in the United States—policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to climate change.

Jain, S., E. Stancioff, and A. Gray, 2012: Coastal Climate Adaptation in Maine’s Coastal Communities: Governance Mapping for Culvert Management. The brief article describes the efforts of a team of researchers from Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative to develop new tools to help Maine communities better understand and prepare for the potential local impacts of climate change on culverts.

Adaptation Examples in the Northeast
Information on adaptation projects and strategies in the Northeast, from the EPA.

Level: Middle and High School, College

4. Lesson Plans

Responding to Climate Change
This lesson focuses on the various activities that humans can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. This includes information on current and predicted CO2 emission scenarios across the globe, alternative energy sources, and how people are currently responding to climate change. Importantly, this lesson is motivating in showing students that they can make a difference.

Level: high school and college

From Grid to Home
In this classroom activity, students analyze regional energy usage data and their own energy bills to gain an understanding of individual consumption, regional uses, costs, and sources of energy.

Level: Middle and High School, College

Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Role-Play Exercise
In this role-play activity, students take the roles of various important players in the climate change policy debate including politicians, scientists, environmentalists, and industry representatives. Working in these roles, students must take a position, debate with others, and then vote on legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Can be used in a variety of courses including writing and rhetoric, and social sciences.

Level: High School, College

The Lifestyle Project
This multi-week project begins with a measurement of baseline consumptive behavior followed by three weeks of working to reduce the use of water, energy, high-impact foods, and other materials. The assignment uses an Excel spreadsheet that calculates direct energy and water use as well as indirect CO2 and water use associated with food consumption. After completing the project, students understand that they do indeed play a role in the big picture. They also learn that making small changes to their lifestyles is not difficult and they can easily reduce their personal impact on the environment.

Level: Middle and High School, College

5. Videos

Rebuild by Design
Videos from the Rebuild by Design initiative, a post-Hurricane Sandy competition to connect designers, policy-makers, and communities to come up with better ways to rebuild and prepare for the effects of climate change on the East coast.

Level: Middle and High School, College