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Impact of climate changes on engineering structures

Impact of climate changes on engineering structures

While in some circles, there are people still not convinced about the adverse effects of climate change on our planet and its consequent threatening of our way of life and even existence as a species here. One thing cannot be denied; changing weather conditions influence several areas of life, including infrastructure and engineering structures.

As we head into a new decade, engineers world over will begin to contend with increasing changing and even hostile weather conditions. And, they must, as a matter of survival, begin to redesign and implement design principles that help ensure engineering structures are capable of withstanding any climatic change.

Granted, it is not as easy as it sounds, since this means, a fundamental shift in the way engineering structures are designed and deployed. However, understanding how rapid climate changes impact the infrastructure is the first step towards building reliable structures that can stand the test of time.

Rapid degradation of infrastructure

One question civil engineer would have to answer when designing new structures is, how well would the structure perform in a rapidly changing weather condition.

With the projected climate change such as increased rainfall in some regions, higher temperatures, and a higher concentration of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the inevitable result would be a general increased rate of material and infrastructure deterioration and degradation.

Unfortunately, most structures are designed and constructed using standards, codes and frameworks that were developed pre-climatic change era, which means, they are not fully-equipped to handle the new dangers rapidly changing environment poses.

Climate change-induced damages to infrastructure

Most civil engineering works are designed to last up to 50-100 years. And, during this time, the structures are expected to be fully functional, safe and reliable.

However, the increasing damages associated with climate change is making it impractical to trust these facilities to last that long.

For instance, it is believed the projected temperature rise and more frequent heatwaves will have a significant impact on both pavements and railway system. In addition, increased temperatures could induce a higher rate of creep in concrete as well as long-term deformations in other civil structures like bridges.

Higher scour rates

Though a geotechnical risk, higher scour rates, nonetheless, poses some risk to civil engineering structures as a result of climate change. Several studies, including one by the New York State Department of Transportation, confirms scour to be one of the most common causes of bridge failure in the state.

As the temperature increases, permafrost melts in places where they exist. Also, the increased rainfall and humidity and possible rise in sea level all contribute to a higher runoff, which in turn, increases the water flow speed and depth, hence leading to a higher scour rates in so many locations.

These future climatic factors will undoubtedly affect the local scour around bridge substructures and abutments, resulting in failures if not mitigated.

Increased demands on infrastructure

Climate change has the potential to unleash extreme weather conditions such as frequent faster winds in some region, intense snowfalls, and higher thermal stress on engineering structures.

These additional demands which were not factored into the design of the infrastructure could speed up deterioration, deformation and even failure.

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