Earth Institute Research Projects

ULTRA-Ex: Exploring Linkages among Ecosystem Services, Public Health, and the Green Area Factor in New York City

Lead PI: Prof. Kevin L. Griffin , Professor Richard A. Plunz , Dr. Wade McGillis

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2010 - January 2014
North America ; Harlem ; New York City, NY ; New York
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The project is working to develop social indicators on urban green spaces, examining urban-exurban carbon dioxide and micro-climate gradients, working on green urban design, and working to quantify ecosystem services related to green roofs in East Harlem. Investigators will monitor and quantify the ecological and public health benefits of natural ecosystems and evolving green technology interventions in three New York City neighborhoods; bolster the acceptance and value of such systems and interventions to stakeholders; and develop a common planning platform for stakeholders interested in optimizing the ecological and public benefits associated with different urban greening strategies.

The community of East Harlem was chosen as the pilot research site to monitor and evaluate the development and impact of green area for social/recreational space and for food production. The research to date has found a variety of development strategies that quantify publically accessible green areas. The project’s application of the Green Area Factor calculation can be modeled to highlight various “softscape” surfaces within the neighborhood realm to plan effective greening efforts.

OUTCOMES: Demonstrated a difference of 10-14 ppm in CO2 concentrations between NYC and a forest to the north, used GIS to determine that East Harlem is a particular place of concern in NYC, worked with PlaNYC 2030 on expanding access to parks, and worked to bridge the gap between community-driven spatial organization and municipal urban design. The project has also resulted in numerous out reach activities, two journal publications, and a published thesis.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




David Krantz, Ben Orlove, Nilda Mesa


Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), Urban Design Lab (UDL), Geochemistry, Department of Psychology, Department of Statistics, Department of Architecture, Office of Environmental Stewardship



Searle S.Y., Bitterman D.S., Thomas S., Griffin K.L., Atkin O.K. & Turnbull M.H.. "Alternative oxidase responds to both low and high temperature stress in Quercus rubra leaves along an urban-rural gradient in New York," Functional Ecology, v.25, 2011, p. 1007. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2011.01875.x

Searle S.Y., Turnbull, M.H., Boelman N.T., Schuster W.S.F., Yakir D. & Griffin K.L.. "Urban environment of New York City promotes growth in northern red oak seedlings," Tree Physiology, v.31, 2012, p. 1. doi:10.1093/treephys/tps027

Nancy Falxa-Raymond, Matthew I. Palmer, Timon McPhearson, Kevin L. Griffin. "Foliar nitrogen characteristics of four tree species planted in New York City forest restoration sites," Urban Ecosystems, 2014. doi:10.1007/s11252-014-0346-3

T B Carson and D E Marasco and P J Culligan and W R McGillis. "Hydrological performance of extensive green roofs in New York City: observations and multi-year modeling of three full-scale systems," Environmental Research Letters, v.8, 2013, p. 024036. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024036


carbon dioxide cities green spaces green technology urban public health ecosystem services natural ecosystems green roofs green areas urbanization urban design


Sustainable living