Saturday, August 20, 2011

Time to anticipate and adapt to climate change

Research & News at Vanderbilt: Despite the uncertainties surrounding climate change, it is time to start developing effective strategies that will keep the nation’s transportation systems and other critical infrastructure running in the face of the adverse impacts that seem increasingly likely to occur.

This consensus emerged from a two-day leadership summit that brought together major stakeholders from the $1 trillion-plus freight transportation sector with climate change researchers to discuss the issue for the first time. The meeting was held in June at Vanderbilt University and was sponsored by the Vanderbilt Center for Transportation Research (VECTOR), Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment (VIEE) and the University of Memphis’ Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute.

“It is increasingly clear that climate change will have potentially large impacts on the nation’s highways, railroads, waterways, airports and pipelines. In all likelihood, these impacts will increase in the future, so we have to learn how to plan ahead,” said George Hornberger, director of VIEE and distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Infrastructure damage on the rise

According to the University Center for Atmospheric Research, more than 75 percent of natural disasters are triggered directly or indirectly by weather and climate. In the U.S., more than a quarter of our gross national product (+$2 trillion) is sensitive to weather and climate events, which affect our health, safety, economy, environment, transportation systems and national security. Each year, the U.S. sustains billions of dollars in weather-related damages caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, flooding, heavy snows and drought. The threats associated with extreme weather and climate change are substantial and adapting to climate change will be crucial to economic and social stability, for example by making future water, food and energy supplies reliable and sustainable. Contributing to these costs is the problem of the nation’s aging infrastructure, which needs $2.2 trillion in improvements to meet today’s demands, according to the 2009 National Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Unless the nation begins taking appropriate measures, these costs are likely to increase: “It appears to us that more extreme weather events – like floods and hurricanes – are becoming more frequent and pronounced and we need to be prepared to adapt to the prospect that what have been episodic events in the past become chronic features of our operational landscape in the future,” observed Craig Philip, Chief Executive Officer of the Ingram Barge Company and a member of the conference steering committee….

A FEMA photo from New Orleans, LA, August 30, 2005 -- Aerial view of some of the damage related to Hurricane Katrina the day after the hurricane hit August 29, 2005. This is the levee on the east or lower side of the Industrial Canal that has been damaged by the hurricane storm surge and/or the barge which hit the canal flood wall. The view is looking south to the Mississippi River. The Industrial Canal is in the foreground and the North Claiborne Avenue (SR39) bridge is in the right middle distance

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