Baltimore's hidden green gem

Published July 07, 2010

Did you know that part of the Aquarium’s roof is green? Five years ago this summer, during the Aquarium’s major building expansion, a green roof was installed on a portion of Pier 3 just behind the Australia exhibit. Each spring the roof blooms into a lush, green landscape, and this year was no exception! It was designed as an "extensive" green roof, which is virtually self-sustaining and requires minimum maintenance. “Intensive” green roofs, on the other hand, are more labor-intensive. A very thin layer of soil supports a variety of stonecrops (Sedum) and ornamental onions (Allium). We believe this roof is one of Baltimore's hidden gems. Green roofs provide many benefits to cities, especially during the dog days of summer. Traditional building materials soak up the sun's radiation and re-emit it as heat, making cities 6-10°F hotter than surrounding areas. This is called the urban heat island effect. Our roof may be small, but we hope it is helping to alleviate some of the intense heat Baltimore City is experiencing this week! The roofs also reduce heating and cooling loads on a building. A study conducted by Environment Canada found a 25% reduction in summer cooling needs and a 26% reduction in winter heat losses when a green roof is used. Green roofs will also last up to twice as long as conventional roofs by protecting exterior roof membranes from UV radiation, extreme temperature fluctuations, and punctures. These roofs even help the surrounding environment because they reduce stormwater runoff by acting as a sponge. It has been found that they can retain up to 75% of rainwater, gradually releasing it back into the atmosphere via condensation and transpiration, while filtering pollutants and heavy metals in their soil. Pollutants and carbon dioxide are also filtered out of the air. Finally, green roofs provide habitat for plants, insects, and animals that otherwise have limited natural space in cities. Rooftop greenery complements wild areas by providing "stepping stones" for songbirds, migratory birds, and other wildlife facing shortages of natural habitat.
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