Archive for February, 2014

Uncertainty and climate change adaptation—Part 1, Transportation

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Uncertainty is sometimes our friend, but not for climate change.

We don’t know:

? How much greenhouse gas will we choose to emit?
? How much will a particular quantity of GHG warm the Earth?
? How will that increase in Earth’s temperature change the weather (average temperatures, and ranges? average precipitation, and ranges?)
? How do we prepare for a future we’re not sure of when we find it so challenging to prepare for current realities?

Future posts will look at other challenges to adaptation—water availability, storm surges, agriculture, and ecosystems. This post will focus on transportation.

• Where do we locate new roads, and when do begin to move the current ones? San Francisco sees a threat to the Great Highway, with NASA predicting a sea level increase of 16″ (40 cm) by mid-century, and 55″ (140 cm) by the end of the century. In Alaska, roads are buckling as the permafrost melts, and in some areas, road access has been reduced to 100 days, down from 200.

• How will travel preferences change as costs are added to greenhouse gas emissions, making travel by bus and train more attractive, relative to travel by car. In many places, transportation infrastructure is being built for business-as-usual scenarios that assume no behavior switching. Even reallocating lanes in existing infrastructure, perhaps to give buses more priority, can engender controversy.

• What temperatures should roads be designed for? Freeways buckled in Germany when temperatures reached 93°F (34°C), resulting in accidents and one death.

Buckling highways

Buckling Highways: German Autobahns Can’t Stand the Heat

• How will trains cope with climate change? Floods are a problem (Amtrak didn’t provide service between Denver and Chicago for weeks in 2008 due to floods). Heat is as well. Amtrak had a heat solution: require speeds to stay below 80 mph (130 kph) when temperatures exceeded 95°F (35°C). Unfortunately, as described in Changes in Amtrak’s Heat Order Policy,

The impact on schedule performance and track capacity was substantial, considering that the Northeast Corridor (NEC) handles up to 2,400 trains per day at speeds up to 150 MPH. The disruption was attributed to increased running times, trains arriving at key capacity choke points out of sequence, and inability to turn trains consists in a timely manner at terminals.

For now, Amtrak is working to establish a better protocol for heat triggers, but at some point, there will be a number of days each year in a number of locations where today’s train infrastructure won’t work with the new temperatures.

heatwave in Australia

Heatwave in Australia

The National Academy of Sciences discusses five climate changes expected to have important effects on transportation in Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation:

• Increases in very hot days and heat waves,
• Increases in Arctic temperatures,
• Rising sea levels,
• Increases in intense precipitation events, and
• Increases in hurricane intensity

Naturally, NAS has some recommendations. Does transportation decision-making in your region incorporate their ideas, or other similar ideas, into planning?

Finding: The past several decades of historical regional climate patterns commonly used by transportation planners to guide their operations and investments may no longer be a reliable guide for future plans. In particular, future climate will include new classes (in terms of magnitude and frequency) of weather and climate extremes, such as record rainfall and record heat waves, not experienced in modern times as human-induced changes are superimposed on the climate’s natural variability.

Finding: Climate change will affect transportation primarily through increases in several types of weather and climate extremes, such as very hot days; intense precipitation events; intense hurricanes; drought; and rising sea levels, coupled with storm surges and land subsidence. The impacts will vary by mode of transportation and region of the country, but they will be widespread and costly in both human and economic terms and will require significant changes in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems.

Recommendation 1: Federal, state, and local governments, in collaboration with owners and operators of infrastructure, such as ports and airports and private railroad and pipeline companies, should inventory critical transportation infrastructure in light of climate change projections to determine whether, when, and where projected climate changes in their regions might be consequential.

Finding: Potentially, the greatest impact of climate change for North America’s transportation systems will be flooding of coastal roads, railways, transit systems, and runways because of global rising sea levels, coupled with storm surges and exacerbated in some locations by land subsidence.

Recommendation 2: State and local governments and private infrastructure providers should incorporate climate change into their long-term capital improvement plans, facility designs, maintenance practices, operations, and emergency response plans.

Finding: The significant costs of redesigning and retrofitting transportation infrastructure to adapt to potential impacts of climate change suggest the need for more strategic, risk-based approaches to investment decisions.

Recommendation 3: Transportation planners and engineers should use more probabilistic investment analyses and design approaches that incorporate techniques for trading off the costs of making the infrastructure more robust against the economic costs of failure. At a more general level, these techniques could also be used to communicate these trade-offs to policy makers who make investment decisions and authorize funding.

Finding: Transportation professionals often lack sufficiently detailed information about expected climate changes and their timing to take appropriate action.

Recommendation 4: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the U.S. Geological Survey, and other relevant agencies should work together to institute a process for better communication among transportation professionals, climate scientists, and other relevant scientific disciplines, and establish a clearinghouse for transportation-relevant climate change information.

Finding: Better decision support tools are also needed to assist transportation decision makers.

Recommendation 5: Ongoing and planned research at federal and state agencies and universities that provide climate data and decision support tools should include the needs of transportation decision makers.

Finding: Projected increases in extreme weather and climate underscore the importance of emergency response plans in vulnerable locations and require that transportation providers work more closely with weather forecasters and emergency planners and assume a greater role in evacuation planning and emergency response.

Recommendation 6: Transportation agencies and service providers should build on the experience in those locations where transportation is well integrated into emergency response and evacuation plans.

Finding: Greater use of technology would enable infrastructure providers to monitor climate changes and receive advance warning of potential failures due to water levels and currents, wave action, winds, and temperatures exceeding what the infrastructure was designed to withstand.

Recommendation 7: Federal and academic research programs should encourage the development and implementation of monitoring technologies that could provide advance warning of pending failures due to the effects of weather and climate extremes on major transportation facilities.

Finding: The geographic extent of the United States—from Alaska to Florida and from Maine to Hawaii—and its diversity of weather and climate conditions can provide a laboratory for identifying best practices and sharing information as the climate changes.

Recommendation 8: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Federal Highway Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Public Transportation Association, the American Association of Port Authorities, the Airport Operators Council, associations for oil and gas pipelines, and other relevant transportation professional and research organizations should develop a mechanism to encourage sharing of best practices for addressing the potential impacts of climate change.

Finding: Reevaluating, developing, and regularly updating design standards for transportation infrastructure to address the impacts of climate change will require a broad-based research and testing program and a substantial implementation effort.

Recommendation 9: USDOT should take a leadership role, along with those professional organizations in the forefront of civil engineering practice across all modes, to initiate immediately a federally funded, multiagency research program for ongoing reevaluation of existing and development of new design standards as progress is made in understanding future climate conditions and the options available for addressing them. A research plan and cost proposal should be developed for submission to Congress for authorization and funding of this program.

Recommendation 10: In the short term, state and federally funded transportation infrastructure rehabilitation projects in highly vulnerable locations should be rebuilt to higher standards, and greater attention should be paid to the provision of redundant power and communications systems to ensure rapid restoration of transportation services in the event of failure.

Finding: Federal agencies have not focused generally on adaptation in addressing climate change.

Recommendation 11: USDOT should take the lead in developing an interagency working group focused on adaptation.

Finding: Transportation planners are not currently required to consider climate change impacts and their effects on infrastructure investments, particularly in vulnerable locations.

Recommendation 12: Federal planning regulations should require that climate change be included as a factor in the development of public-sector long-range transportation plans; eliminate any perception that such plans should be limited to 20 to 30 years; and require collaboration in plan development with agencies responsible for land use, environmental protection, and natural resource management to foster more integrated transportation–land use decision making.

Finding: Locally controlled land use planning, which is typical throughout the country, has too limited a perspective to account for the broadly shared risks of climate change.

Finding: The National Flood Insurance Program and the FIRMs used to determine program eligibility do not take climate change into account.

Recommendation 13: FEMA should reevaluate the risk reduction effectiveness of the National Flood Insurance Program and the FIRMs, particularly in view of projected increases in intense precipitation and storms. At a minimum, updated flood zone maps that account for sea level rise (incorporating land subsidence) should be a priority in coastal areas.

Finding: Current institutional arrangements for transportation planning and operations were not organized to address climate change and may not be adequate for the purpose.

Recommendation 14: Incentives incorporated in federal and state legislation should be considered as a means of addressing and mitigating the impacts of climate change through regional and multistate efforts.

Part 2: Changes in water availability