Wednesday :: Apr 16, 2008

A Pretty Damning Tale

by Turkana


A federal study released this month documents the significant impact that climate change is expected to have on the U.S. transportation system. Its conclusion, says Henry Schwartz, the former head of one of the country's largest highway engineering firms, is "a pretty damning tale of what could happen."

The 3-year effort, led by the U.S. Department of Transportation and including outside experts as well as climate scientists, focused on a roughly 80-km-wide strip along the Gulf Coast region from Mobile, Alabama, to Houston, Texas, that is home to 10 million people ( It found an expected sea-level rise of 122 centimeters over the next 50 to 100 years--an estimate reflecting the midrange of previous global forecasts that was tweaked to factor in as much as 81 cm in subsidence in some areas--would permanently flood nearly a third of the region's major roads. Some 72% of ports in the region would be at risk, the report concludes, and a majority of roads and 29 airports would likely experience major flooding during major storms. In addition, the report says that a temperature rise of between 0.5° and 2.5°C would cause railroad lines to buckle, require more sturdy driving surfaces, and boost the cost of road maintenance by increasing the strain on repair crews.

Scientists say the study is the most rigorous effort thus far to quantify how climate change could impact vulnerable U.S. infrastructure at the local level. "Transportation professionals … by and large haven't looked very seriously at global warming," says Schwartz, a former president of engineering giant Sverdrup Civil (now Jacobs Engineering Group in Pasadena, California). Schwartz is also chair of a panel of the U.S. National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) that has tackled the same issue on a national scale. Its report, released last week, calls for similar partnerships between climate scientists and transportation planners in other regions (

I linked the NRC report here.

Turkana :: 7:13 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!