TAMU green roof project breaks real world & classroom barriers

Published: Apr. 5, 2017 at 5:16 PM CDT
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For the past five years, the 'Green Roof Project' at Texas A&M has given many students and faculty their green thumbs.

When you think of a garden, the idea of colorful and sweet smelling blooms come to mind. While you'll find some of those on top of the Langford Architecture building at TAMU, the green roof isn't just about appearances.

"Anything you can grow on the ground, you can grow on a rooftop," said Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Bruce Dvorak.

Before coming to Texas, Dvorak had worked on developing technology for green roof projects in Chicago.

Research in southern U.S. climates had been lagging behind North America and Europe, until Dvorak and two other professors at Texas A&M, received a grant for this project back in 2012.

"When we first started the research, we were just scattering different kinds of plants all over," said Dvorak. "We had some failures with some kinds of plants, but also some victories."

Now, they stick to shallow rooted plants, currently growing succulent, prairie and vegetable gardens in their separate plots atop the building.

"Part of the research though isn't just investigating what plants are there and how they survive, it's also studying the micro-climate that's created there," said Dvorak. "That's where the strengths of Professor Don Conlee and his students from the atmospheric sciences department come in handy."

"We're pulling a variety of data from the plots in the roof," explained sophomore Meteorology major, Quinton Lawton. "We're grabbing heat flux data, which is telling us how much heat is entering or leaving the building under each plot. We're also gathering temperature data and moisture data from each area."

Those various bits of information help to pinpoint the environmental benefits a green roof can supply.

"First of all, the plants absorb water when it rains, so having a green roof can prevent flooding in urban areas. There are other services too like when you add pollinator plants which attract bees, butterflies and birds," said Dvorak.

One of the biggest benefits though, is the fact that they keep rooftops cooler. Temperature checks show the part of the roof that is not covered by greenery, can be more than 60 degrees warmer than the part that is.

"Rooftops in general can heat the environment, it's called the 'urban heat island' effect. So keeping roofs cool, can in turn keep the environment cool," explained Dvorak.

As for the students involved, the project allows them to break barriers both in the real world and in the classroom.

"Being able to develop these communication skills and present data in a way that's understandable by others not in your department, is a huge benefit to all the students working on this," said Lawton.

Those involved are calling the project a constant work in progress.

According to Dvorak, if you want to try and grow your own green roof at home, the first thing to do is make sure your roof has the structural capacity to hold the soil and plants. If it doesn't, you could risk a collapse.