In Earth Day Event, Citizen Scientists Apply Geographic Information Science (GIS) to Solve NYC Environmental Challenges

Professor Henry Bulley leads GIS-centered event in honor of Earth Day

May 13, 2024

A May 10 event addressing climate change, “Become a Citizen Scientist for Earth Day and Help Solve Environmental Problems,” was held at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) at 199 Chambers St.

The event was led by Dr. Henry Bulley, Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science (GIS) in the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice at BMCC.

To kick off the day’s activities, student participants were given prompts such as, “If you wanted to build a wind-powered building in Manhattan, where would you build it?” and “What can we do in our own small ways to protect our land and people from the effects of global warming?”

Professor Bulley worked closely with the students as they applied group problem-solving to address these questions and more.

“Data sets are one thing, but if you can connect them to people, you can make a difference,” he told the group.

“In New York City, we have seen the devastation of events like Hurricane Sandy, which caused flooding and home loss along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., as well as the Caribbean,” said Professor Bulley. “More recently Dubai—a desert area—was plagued by 10 inches of rain over 48 hours, twice the annual rainfall that area is accustomed to.”

Professor Bulley demonstrated how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) links data to maps in order to predict and mitigate the effects of global warming, which he says is affecting health and well-being worldwide.

During the event, one Engineering major said he is interested in a career planning sustainable buildings and was inspired by an article about a building using wind power as its main energy source.

Professor Bulley presented a topographical map of New York City as well as visuals to show how GIS can be used to link data to a map. This enabled the students to assess and discuss which locations could make best use of wind as a building’s main power source.

BMCC is the only CUNY community college to offer a GIS degree program

While the Citizen Scientist event welcomed students from all majors, those interested in majoring in GIS will find that BMCC is the only CUNY community college to offer a GIS associate degree program.

The Associate in Science (A.S.) GIS program at BMCC was kicked off with a  $300,000 NSF Grant  to enable a team of researchers at BMCC to develop courses and work with geospatial experts at Hunter College.

Today, the GIS program at BMCC prepares graduates to transfer to the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Geography program at Hunter College, or to a similar program at Lehman College and others.

The interdisciplinary GIS field provides the technology to manage, analyze and display spatial data for applications including natural resource management, crime mapping, managing grid networks, public health, emergency preparedness and more.

GIS technology addresses flooding and other environmental issues

Students attending the Citizen Scientist event on May 10 worked together to assess local neighborhoods for places where storm water might accumulate and cause damage.

Professor Bulley explained that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has implemented Green Infrastructure, including Rain Gardens, to reduce flash flooding in the city.

“However, currently constructed Rain Gardens are on public ‘right of ways’ and these may be inadequate to accommodate the increasing intensity of rainfall,” said Professor Bulley. “This raises the need to identify candidate private properties for investment in Rain Gardens or alternative Green Infrastructure such as Rain Barrels.”

This is where people come in and contribute to crowdsourced “Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI),” he explains.

“By participating in the Mapping Green Infrastructure in NYC  activity, New Yorkers provide information about their neighborhoods that will help harness the power of GIS and satellite-based GPS technology to address pressing environmental issues including catastrophic flooding,” said Professor Bulley.

In a city with so much private property, he said, one way to make a difference is to identify areas where people can voluntarily install some of these systems.

“Not only will their property be better protected, the value of the homes and land will be increased.”

Students apply GIS to understand global warming phenomena

“Why is there a lake in the middle of a glacier?” Professor Bulley asked the students and told a story about a group of researchers who, while gathering data in the Himalayas, came across a glacier that held a lake “the size of the distance from BMCC to City Hall.”

When the researchers hiked to the same area later in the day, he said, the lake was gone. “How could a lake this size disappear in a few hours?” he asked the group.

It turns out there were cracks in the glacier that allowed water to flow downhill and flood a local village.

“GIS can be used to identify and protect these kinds of vulnerable areas,” Professor Bulley said.

“The Himalayas, Dubai, the Caribbean, New York City and other areas can be evaluated with GIS. We can have a better idea where to build homes and if they are already built, how to protect the ones that are at risk of flooding and other environmental issues.”

“Everyone knows we have flooding and other problems related to global warming,” said Professor Bulley in his closing remarks. “I wanted to use Earth Day to get people to realize we can work together to make a difference.”


To learn more about the BMCC Geographic Information Science (GIS) program, which is co-coordinated by the Social Sciences, Criminal Justice and Human Services Department and the Computer Information Systems (CIS) Department, visit here, stop by the Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice Department at 199 Chambers Street, Room N-651 or call (212) 220-1210.


  • May 10 event at BMCC in honor of Earth Day, “Become a Citizen Scientist for Earth Day and Help Solve Environmental Problems,” addresses climate change

  • Event is led by Dr. Henry Bulley, Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science (GIS)

  • Student participants problem-solve around environmental issues, such as flooding

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