Welcome to another year at the Mortenson Center here at CU-Boulder! We hope you had an interesting and relaxing summer vacation and have arrived on campus invigorated and excited to teach and to learn.
This summer, Professor Paul Chinowsky was in the news twice talking about climate change, its impact on infrastructure, and strategies to deal with weather vulnerability in the future.
Prof. Chinowsky was one of the experts Scientific American turned to for its article titled “Extreme Weather Hits Poorest Hardest.” Aside from the obvious harm a severe weather event does, its impact on buildings, roads and transit systems can be devastating, Prof. Chinowsky pointed out, and that can have a disproportionate impact on those living in lower-income areas. With the American Society of Civil Engineers giving the nation’s infrastructure a D+ grade, Prof. Chinowsky urged using sustainable and forward-looking techniques to perform the upgrades that are so desperately needed. For example, new styles of drainage systems and different road materials, such are being experimented with in the Netherlands, a low-lying country susceptible to flooding, would go a long way to alleviating potential road and transit shutdowns in the future. The problem needs to be addressed on a national level, said Prof. Chinowsky, not just in a few areas like New York or Seattle where the wealth of the local economy would permit better preparation.
In an article on www.govtech.com, Professor Chinowsky talked about “the new normal” of weather and its impact on infrastructure. He noted that the greatest threat to infrastructure will not come from extreme weather events like floods and hurricanes, but from a shifting in what we see as the “normal” state of weather: higher average highs, lower lows, more (or less) annual rainfall. The techniques and products we currently use in building infrastructure are not equipped to handle such a shift. For example, the asphalt currently used in road construction is not designed to withstand consistently higher temperatures and will be softer in such heat. Vehicles passing over it will do more damage. Cracks and potholes will form from the stress. By taking into account such predicted stressors — environmental changes that will impact infrastructure — Prof. Chinowsky and a team of scientists have developed a system for modeling and predicting these future environmental changes as well as for predicting the costs associated with taking action to prepare for them. The team is assisting both local authorities in Boulder and organizations around the world in understanding the potential impact of shifting weather patterns on their roads, bridges, and buildings, and in deciding what action to take to alleviate that impact.
When you have read the articles yourself, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback, or just tell us what you did this summer that was newsworthy.