University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Aiken's Green Roof

See photos of the installation and hear Gary Hawley, research associate in the
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, discuss the goals of the project.

The Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources installed its new green roof -- or more accurately, roofs -- this past week atop their home in the George D. Aiken Center. It's a design ten years in the making that features eight research watersheds, sloped sections that channel unabsorbed water into separate drains for measurement and further data collection. While the roof's plantings will actively absorb runoff, providing protection for Lake Champlain in the here and now, it's also serving a higher calling: to act as a testing environment to improve green roof designs of the future.

Faculty, students and staff selected plant and soil types to analyze the effectiveness of existing combinations already commonly deployed on green roofs -- for example, different species of sedum and chives planted in a lightweight soil. They've also chosen to test plants native to Vermont and the use of biochar, a carbon-rich soil additive produced without the creation of carbon dioxide emissions. Those designs, they suspect, may do an even better job at absorbing stormwater and keeping pollutants out of surrounding watersheds. A separate area of the roof will remain plant and soil-less, serving as the all-important control by which to measure the other efforts.

In a few weeks, visitors can stop by the third floor of Aiken on a rainy day -- or, let's be honest at this point in the year, a sunny day after a snowfall --  to see the series of "tipping buckets" on view there. The clear bins will show the volume of runoff coming from each of the watersheds above, serving as a visual clue to the effectiveness of each: the less water, the better the test area is faring.

Those in search of more information will soon be able to access online the data collected from the roof, including weather information from the meteorological station perched up top as well as soil moisture and temperatures from the watersheds. "All that data," says Gary Hawley, research associate in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, "will be available to anybody in the world. We want everybody -- not only in our school or at the university, but throughout the world -- to learn from this study."

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