Impacts Of Climate Change On Transportation

In 2008 the Transportation Research Board released a report titled Potential Impacts of Climate Change on US Transportation (NRC, 2008g). The report assesses some of the possible impacts of climate change on various transportation systems, with an emphasis on four categories of climate change impacts: increases in very hot days and heat waves, increases in arctic temperatures, rising sea levels, and increases in hurricane intensity. These impacts are summarized in Table 13.2. While not an exhaustive or quantitative list, this analysis provides an overview of the types of impacts that could be experienced in the transportation sector.

TABLE 13.2 Potential Climate Change Impacts on Transportation

Potential Change in Climate

Impact on Operations

Impact on Infrastructure

Increases in

Impact on liftoff load limits at high-

Thermal expansion on bridge joints and

very hot days

altitude or hot-weather airports,

paved surfaces

and heat waves

resulting in flight cancellations or

Concerns regarding pavement integrity,

limits on payload or both

traffic-related rutting, and migration

Limits on periods of construction

of liquid asphalt

activity due to health and safety

Rail-track deformities



Longer ocean transport season and

Thawing of permafrost, causing

in Arctic

more ice-free ports in northern

subsistence of roads, railbeds, bridge



supports, pipelines, and runway

Possible availability of a northern sea


route or a northwest passage

Shorter season for ice roads


More frequent interruptions to coastal

Inundation of roads, rail lines, and airport

sea levels,

and low-lying roadway travel rail

runways in coastal areas

combined with

service due to storm surges

More frequent or severe flooding of

storm surges

More severe storm surges, requiring

underground tunnels and low-lying

evacuation or changes in


development patterns

Erosion of road base supports

Potential closure or restrictions at

Reduced clearance under bridges

airports that lie in coastal zones,

Change in harbor and port facilities to

affecting service to the highest-

accommodate higher tides and storm

density U.S. population centers



Increase in weather-related delays

Increase in flooding of roadways, rail

in intense

and traffic disruptions

lines, runways, and subterranean


Increased flooding of evacuation




Increase in road washout, damages

Increase in airline delays due to

to railbed support structures, and

convective weather

landslides and mudslides that

damage roads and tracks

Increases in scouring of pipeline

roadbeds and damage to pipelines

More intense or

More frequent interruptions in air

Greater probability of infrastructure

more frequent




More frequent and potentially more

Increased threat to stability of bridge

extensive emergency evacuations


More debris on roads and rail lines,

Impacts on harbor infrastructure from

interrupting travel and shipping

wave damage and storm surges

SOURCE: NRC (2008g).

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