Ready Or Not: UW Scientist Says Assumptions About Climate Could Impact Local Infrastructure

Jun 26, 2018

This year, during an annual environment lecture series at the University of Rhode Island, almost all of the talks focused on the present and future impacts of climate change.

For the next installment of our series “Ready or Not,” Environment Reporter Avory Brookins sits down with speaker Amy Snover from the University of Washington. 

Snover is a scientist and director of the university’s Climate Impacts Group, which helps public and private agencies in the Pacific Northwest assess and plan for the risks of climate change.

Snover said to prepare, it’s important for coastal communities to understand the future global climate will look very different than what it did in the past.

"Climate change is already moving along, we've set changes in motion," Snover said. "For many aspects of our climate that are important to us, within the next handful of decades, we'll be in a situation where what is considered 'normal' then is unlike anything we've seen before."

Snover's talk focused on ways climate change could impact systems people don't typically think about.

She said different types of infrastructure are at risk because assumptions about climate are embedded into their design.

"Our roads and bridges are designed based on what happened in the past," Snover said. "Engineers are required to look at historical flows to calculate risk to the bridge and design it so that it withstands those."   

During her presentation, Snover said droughts and floods brought on by climate change could also alter water availability, and as temperatures warm, supply and demand for energy could affect the lifetime and performance of power systems.   

However, Snover said there is data and information available for coastal communities to assess the risks of climate change and to address them. 

"Some places they'll need to replace a bridge, other places they'll move a road, there's no one answer," Snover said. "The question is, are we being clear and honest about the risks are and are we using science to evaluate our options for responding to those?"