There are two things that seem more certain than many others about climate change. The first is that, on average, the world will warm. The second is that ice will melt. If you go back through the archives of this blog--links over on the right--there is a series on melting ice in February. If ice that is on land melts, then sea level will rise. Sea level will also rise because the ocean is getting warmer. The sea level rise that has been measured comes from both melting ice and warming oceans ( See IPCC 2007
). If I were going through the list of planning, and thinking about things that I can prepare for, then sea-level rise is near the top of the list. (Also in February blog archive, Alaskan villages moving because of rising seas.)
The United States has a Climate Change Science Program
, which is producing a series of reports on many subjects. (These reports all go through a period of being open to public comment. So keep your eyes open!) One of those reports is Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure -- Gulf Coast Study
. Despite all of the statements one hears about the U.S. Government not taking climate change seriously, these reports show a depth of thinking and planning that belies those statements. For example the Department of Transportation has a Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting
which has been evaluating the role of the transportation sector in climate change and the impact of climate change on transportation.
In a recent report on National Public Radio, which is doing an extensive series on climate change
, there was a report about the lifting of a roadway
that is used as part of the oil infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. The road is becoming more vulnerable due to both rising sea level and sinking land. A huge amount of the U.S. oil and natural gas infrastructure is in the Gulf on Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina showed the vulnerability of this infrastructure. (I will leave it to you to argue about Hurricane Katrina and climate change, but go on record that I did NOT say that Hurricane Katrina showed the vulnerability of the U.S. to climate change.) In Alaska, because of the warming climate, roads that sit on the tundra are more and more restricted in their use because they sit on thawed, unstable ground.
The figure below shows the projected sea level rise along the Gulf Coast and the roads which are vulnerable to sea level rise. Figure 1:
Highways Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise (from Savonis, 2007).
These are taken from a presentation by Michael Savonis
to the Transportation Research Board
. It is a preliminary version of the Climate Change Science Program report mentioned above. It is important to note a couple of things with this figure. This is for four feet of sea level rise, which is at the upper limit of current projections in the next century. This is NOT the extreme amounts that are shown in figures of "what if Greenland melts?" It occurs over the next hundred years, which is not a long amount of time compared to the lifetime of a highway, but it is long enough to anticipate, plan, and respond to with some efficiency. Plus, things are connected--if new roads, infrastructure, are built away from the coast, then it will motivate the migration of other resources away from the coast. This is important stuff to think about.