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Assessing Climate Change Impact on Transportation Infrastructure Vulnerability and Sustainability

Multi-disciplinary assessment of climate impacts on bridge scour failures

Assessing the impact of climate change on bridge scour failure sustainability metrics requires contributions from five disciplines: life-cycle impact modeling, structural engineering, scour (fluid mechanics and sediment transport), hydrology, and climate science.

This project, which brings together the disciplines of climate science, hydrology, environmental fluid mechanics, structural engineering, and life-cycle analysis, studies the impact of climate change on infrastructure vulnerability. Scour, or erosion of the soil around bridge foundations, is the primary cause of highway bridge failure in the United States. Climate change is expected to alter the patterns of rainstorm events that cause flash floods in ephemeral rivers, and thereby increase the vulnerability of our built infrastructure to scour.

Current scour assessment methods are based on existing climate conditions and don’t take the increased frequency and severity of climate events into consideration. In order to better predict scour, researchers are linking climate, river and sediment dynamics, and impacts for a wide range of bridges and configurations, allowing policymakers to make sound choices in prioritizing infrastructure renewal.