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Website shows how climate change impacts Indianapolis

Mar. 9, 2016

An interactive website created by an environmental epidemiologist at IUPUI that shows how climate change will impact Indianapolis has won a national environmental climate change competition.

potential flood zones near IUPUI

Potential flood zones in IUPUI area. | IMAGE COURTESY OF IUPUI

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the centers that make up the National Institutes of Health, awarded a first-place prize of $10,000 to Yi Wang, an assistant professor in the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.

Wang worked with public health undergraduate and graduate students, the Society of Chemical Hazard Communication, the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Inventory Release, and Indianapolis' Near Westside community to develop the website, titled "The Effects of Climate Change on the Future of Local Communities."

The prototype is currently designed for Indianapolis' Near Westside community, but it can easily be replicated for other communities. It will be featured in the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. Created by the White House, the toolkit provides scientific tools, information and expertise to help communities and their residents manage their climate-related risks and opportunities and improve resilience to extreme events.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences held the Climate Change and Environmental Exposures Challenge to develop additional tools needed to identify people and places at risk from climate change-related environmental hazards.

"Climate change is likely to alter the risks posed by environmental exposures in ways that are just beginning to be explored," according to the agency's website. "By creating data visualization tools and maps that connect current science on climate change to the exposure pathways for environmental hazards, innovators can help identify areas and people at greatest risk and help to prioritize protective actions."

The website developed by Wang's team provides multiple maps of Indianapolis showing environmental hazards that will be impacted by climate change. Among them are:

  • Flooding: The effect of increased precipitation on vulnerable and hazardous areas;
  • Air pollution: The effect of temperature on ozone formation; and
  • Extreme heat: The effect of urban heat on cardiovascular health, including stroke and heart attack during the hottest days of summer.

The maps are important not only because they show how climate change events affect existing environmental hazards in the greater Indianapolis area, but also because they make the information easy to understand for community residents and policymakers, Wang said.

"Our entire team was very excited to learn our project received the first-place prize," Wang said. "I am very proud of our undergraduate and graduate students who worked so hard to help create a unique interactive tool that allows people to understand the impact of climate change on their neighborhood, and to do something about it."

"The environment in which an individual lives, learns, works and plays has a big impact on health," Wang said. "We mined publicly available data from a number of databases, cleaned the data and leveraged it to create an interactive tool that uses plain language and simple maps to illustrate how climate change is impacting the environment in Indianapolis. There are big health consequences if we don’t intervene. We hope this tool will make it easier and more cost-effective to take needed action."

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