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Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Mitigation Options


Critical U.S. transportation systems, such as ports and the onroad and rail lines that service these facilities are currently vulnerable to coastal flooding- storm surge, and damaging waves, and their exposure is expected to increase due to climate variability and associated extreme events. Over 60,000 roadway miles are within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year floodplains delineated in U.S. coastal counties. More than 36,000 bridges are located within 15 miles of the coast, and over 1,000 of these bridges have simply supported spans that are vulnerable to damage by storm surge and waves. As sea levels rise, the risk of flooding or damage to this infrastructure is expected to increase, and it is likely that the number of at-risk roadway miles will increase as well.

Climate variability is expected to impact transportation infrastructure in many ways, such as:

• Sea level rise,

• Variability of storm frequency and storm intensity,

• Changes in precipitation patterns and amounts,

• Changes in temperature, and

• Uncertainty related to the frequency of extreme events.

Any of these can cause transportation disruptions, damage to transportation infrastructure, and increased long-term maintenance or replacement costs, including:

  • Vulnerability of ports and supporting infrastructure to flooding and wave actions,

  • Disruption to the electrical grid,

  • Impacts to water quality and water quantity, and

  • Changes to hydrodynamic regime and sediment transport.

To be better prepared for these impacts it is critical to identify the areas at risk and appreciate mitigation options that need to be in place prior to a sever weather event.

Thousands of U.S. roadway miles and bridges are currently exposed to coastal and riverine flooding, and their vulnerability (i.e., risk, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity) is expected to increase in light of climate variability and associated extreme events. Studies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Gulf Coast Study Phase 2, the Post-Hurricane Sandy Transportation Resilience Study of NY, NJ, and CT, and Green Infrastructure Techniques for Resilience of the Oregon Coast Highway have described issues and challenges with the exposure and sensitivity of intermodal transportation systems and critical infrastructure expected and actual impacts of climate change.

To anticipate possible affects common characteristic of possible sever weather events need to be better understood such as the size and duration of accompanying rains as well as wind speed. For example, one of impact of Florence and Harvey is how the inland rains produced flooding, that generated environmental threats downriver impacting infrastructure in ports and coastal communities.

This research also provides information and tools applicable for other metropolitan planning organizations to assess their vulnerability to climate change impacts.


A review of coastal and inland infrastructure vulnerabilities related to climate variability and appropriate options to help address these concerns could be a useful tool for state and local government agencies, port authorities, and trade associations to better understand the problem and potential solutions. The review could include:

  • Compilation of regional intensity-frequency-duration data including quantification of uncertainty for extreme events for coastal regions of the United States
  • Vulnerability assessments for intermodal transportation systems and infrastructure.
  • Life cycle assessments of potential impacts to extreme events
  • Available models that describing the fragility of transportation infrastructure to known hazards

  • Identification of retrofits and countermeasures to infrastructure to increase resilience of the identified vulnerable elements transportation systems including use of nature-based methods, or green infrastructure


The U.S. needs a robust and resilient transportation network that can withstand potential impacts from climate change. This project will identify the possible problems with the current intermodal network; identify various ways to mitigate and address problems before they happen; and assess how the network can respond when certain portions of it are put out of commission due to natural disasters. This latter point is particularly important from a resiliency and recovery perspective – including the ability to evacuate people and to bring goods and services into devastated areas.

Related Research:

Systems engineering approaches to transportation vulnerability and resilience analyses

  • The following tasks are not comprehensive. They are intended as a guide to what might be necessary to successfully complete the research:

Phase 1 Vulnerability Assessment

  • Evaluation of regional storm intensity-frequency-duration data including quantification of uncertainty for extreme events for coastal regions of the United States

  • Compile vulnerability assessments for the marine component of the U.S. freight transportation systems and infrastructure.

  • Develop descriptions of potential impacts to extreme events using life cycle assessment to prioritize identified vulnerabilities.

Phase 2 Model Development

  • Compare available models that can be used to assess the vulnerability of the marine component of the U.S. freight movement system, including tools used in other fields (e.g., communication, information technology) to assess network robustness Using the data compiled in Phase 1, develop a novel network analysis tool to assess the impact that different climate events could have on the US transportation network.

Phase 2 Mitigation Options

  • Identification of retrofits and countermeasures to infrastructure to increase resilience of the identified vulnerable elements transportation systems including use of nature-based methods, or green infrastructure

Phase 3 Outreach

  • Prepare outreach material and PowerPoint presentation for dissemination to potential users/ stakeholders

To develop a modeling tool that will be useful for ports and policy makers to assess vulnerability and resilience options, significant challenges will need to be considered such as data availability, as well as proprietary issues of existing infrastructure models.


Given the recent natural disasters in Florida, Puerto Rico, and other locations in the US, this work is extremely important and coming at a key time.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Richard Billings, Liv Haselbach, Timothy Sturtz, James Winebrake, Bret Webb, and Christina Wolfe
Source Info:NOAA vulnerability assessments, port and trade association assessment of resilience options, other infrastructure modeling activities to determine robustness of existing infrastructure.
Date Posted:12/15/2017
Date Modified:01/22/2019
Index Terms:Risk assessment, Climate change, Flood protection, Flood damage, Floods, Wave motion, Storm surges, Weather conditions,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation
Freight Transportation
Security and Emergencies
Hydraulics and Hydrology

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