Climate change is happening. Rising global average temperatures have been documented beyond a reasonable scientific doubt. And those same rigorous empirical standards are predicting this trend will continue.
Our transportation network is vital to our personal and economic well-being. Jobs, leisure activities, access to necessary care, even simply getting our children back and forth to school—all these depend on a transportation system that works, and works well. Knowing just how climate change will impact our transportation network in the future is critical to determining—in advance—ways to mitigate those impacts that, if unaddressed, will affect every aspect of our daily lives.
Considering climate trends as an aspect of transportation planning isn’t new. Engineers and planners often review this data when designing new infrastructure, as well as establishing water and ecosystem conservation goals. However, the nature and scope of incremental climate change around the globe make historical data less than reliable as a sole source for predicting future climate conditions
My CIITR research team used computer software that integrates high-level climate modeling data into GIS programs, such as ArcGIS, to project future trends based on historical data. We used records of observed daily rainfall and sea-level rise and ran different emission scenarios from the four greenhouse gas concentration trajectories adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The results of the analyses are then calculated to provide the changes of these extreme climate events in terms of frequency and intensity over time. In turn, these results point us toward the potential impact of extreme climate events (e.g., floods, droughts and coastal storms) on our future transportation system.
With a head’s up about projected climate trends, transportation planners can begin building precautions aimed at mitigating their effects right into new transportation and infrastructure projects. Doing so will help ensure our transportation system continues to support economic development and maintain a quality of life for us that we’ve come to expect.
Sometimes we have the opportunity to make things better than they are now. In rarer cases, we can actually look into the future and predict how the world of tomorrow will affect what we’re doing today. Sometimes—with adequate research and trends analysis—we can even do both at the same time.
Lorenzo Cornejo is an assistant transportation researcher with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.