News Archive

posted 08/29/05

Contact: Louise Rosen

Environmental Thesis Project: Green Roofs Could Help NYC Sewage System

An artistís rendition of New York City with greenroofs. Plant-covered roofs throughout the city could improve the sewage system by slowing the flow of rainwater to the sewers. Photo credit: Earth Pledge 2004)

Using a computer model she built herself, Debra Tillinger, an environmental science major, came up with a prediction as to how much better New York City’s sewage system would function if plant-covered roofs throughout the city slowed the flow of rainwater to the sewers.

Tillinger’s research, which was part of her theses project for her undergraduate environmental science degree, was a vital component of the New York Ecological Infrastructure Study that advises policymakers on the costs and benefits of green roof development in the New York City metropolitan area.

Communicating one's research to policymakers is one of the great challenges of any scientist. During the April 2004 theses poster session for undergraduates, Tillinger's complex estimates and predictions were presented to many who have no background in environmental science.

“It was the closest that most undergraduates come to a scientific conference," said Tillinger of the Theses Poster Session. "Posters have become the lingua franca for scientists trained in different disciplines who want to understand a broader spectrum of research topics.

"Being able to make [a poster session] that is both detailed enough for experts within one's own field and clear enough for others to understand is an invaluable skill."

The Thesis Poster Session is an annual presentation of the theses that are completed by seniors in the undergraduate environmental programs including  Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology; Earth and Environmental Engineering; Earth and Environmental Science; or Environmental Science at Columbia University and Barnard College.

This past April, seniors in undergraduate Environmental fields of study completed their theses and made presentations on their research findings to fellow classmates, faculty members, administrators, graduate students, and friends.

Students chose as their thesis topic areas such as: climate research, integrated uses of waste, landscape ecology, and water conservation.

Part of each student’s presentation included posters that served as explicating what they researched and the findings that developed from their studies. The Thesis Poster Session allows students to present their complex research findings in a clear coherent manner that allowed those not in the particular field of study to understand the relevance of the findings.

Research topics that were presented include:

  • Artificial Reef Community Composition
    Health Assessment of Black-crowned Night Herons
  • What is Behind the Enigmatic Declines of Amphibians in the Americas?
  • Effect of Increased Nitrogen and Phosphorus Concentrations on Algae Growth on Coral Reefs
  • North Anatolian Fault Holocene Slip Rate
  • Aerosol Concentrations in New York Metropolitan Area and Dimming of Sunlight Designing a Sustainable Water System for Manhattanville
  • Systematic Exposure of Environmental Toxins Implies a Pathogenic Model for Parkinson’s Disease and an Environmental Correlate
  • The Role of the Grand Banks in the Younger Dryas
  • Neodymium as a Tracer for Sediment-Laden Sea-ice
  • Distribution of High-Altitude Amphibian Populations
  • Water Flow in Grover’s Reef
  • Respiratory Activity, Carbon Fluxes, and Sequestration of Quercus Rubra
  • Fish Communities on Artificial Reefs
  • The Effect of Manganese Exposure on Children’s Intellectual Function
  • Building Renovations for Improved Energy Conservation Lenape Horticulture
  • Peregrine Falcons and their Status along the Hudson River and in New York State Kinship Bias in Social Behavior of Adult Female Blue Monkeys
  • The Effect of Chesapeake Bay Regulations on the Horseshoe Crab Population
  • Fruit Fly and Tropical Rainforests Associations
  • Novel Integrated Process for Beneficial Use of Waste Tires
  • The Meaning of Organic Certification in Direct Marketing

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit