NRC Report on Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation


On March 11, 2008, the Transportation Research Board and the Division on Earth and Life Studies at the National Academy of Sciences released the pre-publication version of the Board’s Special Report 290, The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation. The U.S. transportation system was designed and built for local weather and climate conditions, predicated on historical temperature and precipitation data. The report finds that the climate statistics used by transportation planners and engineers to plan, design and build this Nation’s current transportation system may no longer be reliable in the face of new weather and climate extremes that are possible due to climate change. The impacts of climate change will vary by region and may require significant changes in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems. While every mode of transportation in the U.S. could be affected as the climate changes, the greatest potential impact identified in the report is on transportation systems flooding of roads, railways, transit systems, and airport runways in coastal areas because of rising sea levels and surges brought on by more intense storms.

Five commissioned papers were used to develop the report. One of these, Climate Variability and Change: Implications for Transportation, was co-authored by DOE-sponsored researcher, Michael Wehner from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Wehner used model output collected and archived by the DOE-sponsored Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Three specific scenarios of future climate from this collection were analyzed and compared.

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