SUNSET ON LOGAN

INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

By Pat Connolly and Daniel Flinchbaugh

[1] Larsson, Jörgen, Anneli Kamb, Jonas Nässén, and Jonas Åkerman. “Measuring greenhouse gas

emissions from international air travel of a country’s residents methodological development and application for Sweden.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 72, (2018): 137-144. 

 [2] Marsooli, Reza, Ning Lin, Kerry Emanuel, and Kairui Feng. “Climate change exacerbates hurricane

flood hazards along US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in spatially varying patterns.” Nature Communications 10 (2019): 3785. 

[3]  Kummer, Frank. “As climate changes and seas rise, Philadelphia International Airport is in the crosshairs.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), Sept. 17, 2019

[4] Abel, D. (2015, May 3). “Logan airport drafts climate change plan.” Boston Globe (Boston, MA), May

3, 2015.

[5] Fargione, Joseph E., Steven Bassett, Timothy Boucher, Scott D. Bridgham, Richard T. Conant, Susan C.

Cook-Patton, Peter W. Ellis, et al. “Supplementary Materials for Natural Climate Solutions for the United States.” Science Advances 4, no. 11 (2018).

[6] David J. Nowak, Eric J. Greenfield, Robert E. Hoehn, and Elizabeth Lapoint, “Carbon storage and

sequestration by trees in urban and community areas of the United States.” Environmental Pollution, 178 (2013): 229-236.

[7] Richburg, J. A., and W.A. Patterson III. “Historical Description of the Vegetation of the

Boston Harbor Islands: 1600-2000.” Northeastern Naturalist 12, no. 3 (2005): 13-30.     

Global civil aviation emitted 815 Mt of CO2 in 2016, which was 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. When accounting for non-CO2 emissions, global civil aviation accounts for 4-5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Growing by 40% from 1990 to 2010, the aviation industry’s share of global emissions may rise to 22% by 2050 if radical new technology and policies are not introduced.[1]

In 2021 there is a realization that it is no longer feasible or reasonable to continue to operate and invest in Logan International Airport.  Built on top of dredge spoils only feet above sea level, Logan as well as other coastal airports in Philadelphia and New York will need to reckon with rising sea levels and more frequent and stronger storm surges. Today, Logan’s runways are completely inundated with the surge from a Category 2 hurricane or stronger and are expected to flood with a hurricane of any strength in the coming decades. More frequent and strong hurricanes due to a warming climate and ocean water temperatures makes safe and profitable operation less tenable.

Instead, coastal airports are reimagined as carbon sequestration landscapes. With the airport shuttered and no longer emitting 590 million kg C per year,[4] Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) are implemented including the afforestation of 220.1 hectares of grassland between runways and the protection of 76.7 hectares of seagrass meadows in Boston Harbor to the southeast of the airport. By 2030, these measures sequester approximately 2.31 Mg C per ha per year [5] and 0.89 Mg C per ha per year,[6] respectively.

By 2060, the forests expand to replace the broken runways and pavement surrounding the abandoned buildings to a total size of 507 hectares. Seagrass-related efforts evolved from protection in 2021 to expansion in 2030, which resulted in seagrass meadows growing towards the shoreline to a total of 202 hectares. Since 2030, the two NCS have sequestered approximately 25,200 Mg of C.

Planted with a mix of local coastal plants that currently colonize the Boston Harbor Islands,[7] the airport begins a new use as a recreational and carbon sequestration landscape. The plants sequester carbon from the water and air within their biomass and sediment. Unlike terrestrial environments where trees store carbon quickly but only temporarily as they die and regrow, carbon sequestered in a marine environment is likely to remain sequestered for decades if not centuries or millennia as further sedimentation buries the stored carbon.

Surrounding communities of South Boston, East Boston, and Winthrop will not only be relieved of the air pollution but will also gain access to a significant park and improved water quality of Boston Harbor. Markets and businesses will be impacted by the relocation of airport functions further in land, but the Conley Container Terminal will remain an economic stalwart. Although Boston’s diversified economy will provide some resiliency, there is always the possibility of adverse unintended economic consequences.

Pat Connolly is pursuing a Master's in City & Regional Planning, concentrating in Urban Design. He is interested in the intersections of planning, design, and development to build convivial and resilient communities. Outside of school, he enjoys road trips and moving around outdoors by running, biking, skiing, and sailing.

Daniel D. Flinchbaugh is a Master of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning student. He earned his BFA focusing on painting and sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art but learned he wanted to plant the trees as well as paint them. He now uses his artistic abilities to make landscape architecture ideas accessible to a broader audience.