Infrastructure Buckling Under Climate Change
New York Times reports of various important infrastructures in the US taking a beating from recent weather extremes. The article reports of a US Airways regional jet that was stuck in heat-softened asphalt when temperatures soared and that subway trains were also derailed by a kink in the track resulting from extreme heat – both on the same day.
A nuclear plant in Chicago had to obtain special permission to continue operations after the cooling water it gets from a pond hit 102 degrees. Another power plant was forced to shut down because the source of its cooling water became so low and turned the intake pipe high and dry. Elsewhere several infrastructures like highways, rails, and culverts previously thought to be dependable and adequate are showing the strain of bearing the effects of climate change.
Railroads’ safety and efficiency are threatened by warping due to high temperatures, washout due to floods, and track separation due to extremely low temperatures. Loss of lives as well as resources can result from failure to adapt to present and projected climate change effects.
Highway systems which were designed for local climate norms can buckle under unusual and extreme weather stress. Highways in East Texas are one example. NY Times reports of highways cracking because the clay-rich soils beneath them shrank due to high temperatures. Highway sections in other states also expanded beyond their limits, posing risks to motorists.
Power lines can fail during extreme weather, cutting off power from many users and running high costs for repairs. Previously regarded as an impractical idea, burying power lines is now being considered and discussed as a viable alternative to vulnerable overhead cables.
Water infrastructure has also become a major issue as coastal cities are put on the frontlines of climate change. It has become so recognized an issue that it changed the calculus of water infrastructure planning for one facility in Boston.
Extreme weather is forcing many to pay attention, as unusual weather patterns around the world are experienced and reported. Earlier researches and projections by climate scientists are coming back to mind after being ignored and dismissed for many years. Food security, energy, sustainability and environmental conservation issues are coming to the fore as deviant weather patterns and occurrences are noticed more and more, and climate change becomes less and less crazy as an idea and reality. Millions of people living in coastal areas and port cities are increasingly put at risk due to climate change driven sea level rise and flooding. Billions of assets are also in danger. This is why those who are involved in the field of infrastructure are no less observant, and many are keen for change and adaptation.
According to Vicki Arroyo, head of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, nobody who is in charge of anything made from steel and concrete will be able to make plans based on past trends. This is true for almost any modern infrastructure found in most cities today, many of which are built to cope with the norms of weather in the past. With several records being broken and made in temperature highs and precipitation levels at present, yesterday’s normal infrastructure may no longer be enough for today’s “normal” weather.
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