VISTA Award Focuses on Green Roofs

The 2024 winners provide a solution that addresses heat islands, contributes to carbon sequestration, and aids in controlling rainwater

By Carlos Roa

Ivan Oyege, Priyanka Belbase, Moses Kiwanuka, and Jordan Prats crafted the 2024 VISTA Award-winning project. This accolade, the highest recognition from VoLo, is bestowed upon students demonstrating exemplary leadership, along with Vision, Innovation, Sustainability, Technology, and Action in climate solutions.

The awarded team is currently working on the Evaluation of Plant Varieties for Green Roofs in South Florida.

Green roofs are innovative systems that support plant growth on buildings, replacing traditional roofing materials with a layer of soil for vegetation. They offer various benefits, such as mitigating the heat island effect, reducing stormwater runoff, and sequestering carbon.

For Priyanka, the first thing you notice is the green, which brings a sense of peace. Additionally, green roofs have a positive environmental impact, benefiting everything from soil microorganisms to butterflies, and facilitating pollination. Moreover, in addressing climate factors, they mitigate the heat island effects and help control the water drainage, which is a significant issue in Miami.

A Tailored Solution for Florida

Ivan states that, although the number of green roofs is increasing nationwide, the challenge in South Florida lies in the unique climate compared to other cities, facing hurricanes, strong winds, torrential rains, and extreme heat.

“The type of plants we need here must be able to withstand different weather conditions. You cannot bring down to Miami a plant that thrives well in Chicago.”

Moses explains that they are working on a list of plants that can endure the weather conditions in Southern Florida. “We are setting up recommendations of those that can survive throughout the year in this subtropical climate.” He highlights that the listed species also have carbon sequestration capabilities.

“It’s more like a guide based on identifying plants, testing them, and seeing how they perform, how much they can help reduce building temperatures.”

They have already identified 7 plants: sedums, Bahia grass, blood flowers, scarlet sage, Muhly grass, pencil cactus, and Parry’s agave.

Regarding indoor temperature, it will reduce electricity bills by cooling down the buildings, which is extremely helpful in Miami.

When asked about the potential concern of adding additional load to the roof, Ivan explains that “the soil we use is minimal, only 5 inches. It won’t be heavy for the structure.” He adds that it’s also low maintenance, “they don’t have to take care of them frequently. The green roof will be able to self-sustain for a long time.”

Ivan points out the growing population of Miami. “The houses are increasing in the city. With the population growing, the heat increases. This is going to be a big problem. If we can successfully solve it now, we can help the population of Miami.”

Moses explains that green roofs could redirect 64% of rainfall to drains, an extraordinary reduction when it comes to a city affected by floods.

Making the Change Happen

For Jordan, one way to implement this new knowledge is through agriculture programs, like the one already existing at FIU, which helps both graduate and undergraduate students understand agricultural practices.

“We can use our organic gardens to learn about this. Here, we already have two green roofs, one of which was the first in Florida. Hopefully all this work can serve future research at the University”.

He adds “We are building out our project, we just received the funding, so we are putting together our budget. Hopefully, as soon as we finish our preliminary research, we can continue experimenting and reporting on the varieties that are working.”

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