June 2, 2015 | By: Whitford Remer

Every week this blog, Save America’s Infrastructure highlights the well-documented deterioration of our country’s once world-class infrastructure. It’s been our position for a while that the primary threat to America’s infrastructure is a shortfall in investment. However last week ASCE published a new paper highlighting an emerging critical stressor engineers aren’t yet prepared to address: the impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change.

Adapting Infrastructure and Civil Engineering Practice to a Changing Climate, a new report, authored by ASCE’s Committee on Adapting to a Changing Climate (CACC), is rich with information documenting the challenges of climate change to the engineers who design and maintain our nation’s infrastructure. The committee comprises more than a dozen leading engineers from across multiple sectors that spent two years compiling science data and formulating recommendations for civil engineers to recognize and—adapt infrastructure to—the threats of climate change.

The committee identifies two major challenges of climate change to the engineering practice:

  • The absence of regional and local climate models. A vast majority of current climate science is performed at the global scale. Engineers require more localized models to effectively design infrastructure. The authors suggest increased research and science across disciplines to better understand likely regional climate scenarios and develop scalable localized models.
  • Current engineering practice utilizes historic data to design infrastructure (known as stationarity). Instead, the authors suggest incorporating future climate trends into infrastructure design and adopt low-regret, adaptive approaches.                                                                                                                 

Engineering practices are designed—by function—to be methodical and that often that means slow to adapt. Implementing the paradigm shift suggested by the authors will require cooperation across multiple sectors and may include changes in coursework for engineering students, new safeguards in professional licensing and insurance, policies that encourage or require climate adaptation design, and new innovative project financing structures. Finally, better climate models, leadership at all levels of government and sufficient funding will be critical to the success of saving America’s Infrastructure.

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