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Destruction of Cities and Infrastructure: An Effect of Climate Change

Extreme weather events have crippled infrastructure and cities. Superstorm Sandy made New York go dark. Hurricane Harvey, followed by Hurricane Irma, devastated southern Texas. This storms will increase in frequency because of climate change. This is just one of the many factors that impact cities and infrastructures. It is vitally important because cities make up a large amount of GDP.  




I. Intensifying Extreme Weather

II. Rising Sea Levels: How They Damage Urban Areas

III. Damages to Water Infrastructure

IV. Damages to Electrical Infrastructure

V. Impacts on Goods and Services

VI. Transportation Impacts in Urban and Rural Areas

VII. Direct solutions and Urban Response


Intensifying Extreme Weather

Climate change is intensifying extreme weather, as mentioned. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane tied the record for the number of named hurricanes. The heaviest rainfall amounts have increased 6% to 7%, on average, compared to what they were a century ago. As temperature rises, so will heat waves.

Hurricanes and other water-related extreme weather events can destroy buildings and infrastructure in cities. Bridges that run across rivers are critical infrastructures to connect many cities. In New York City, several bridges connect the 5 boroughs. In addition, many of the subway tracks run along these bridges. If these were to be destroyed by a hurricane, it would bring New York to a standstill. Intense heavy rainfall can flood any city, no matter how well they are built up against storm surges.


There is also a financial impact. Water scarcity from droughts leads to the rising input prices of water and water distributors have to raise their rates in order to afford it. Consumers then have to pay the increased rates. This clearly has a negative effect on the economy. As climate change causes more intense droughts, this economic impact happens more often.


Rising Sea Levels: How They Damage Urban Areas

This is one of the major effects of climate change. There are two main ways that climate change is causing the rising of the seas. One way is that the rising temperatures are causing the melting of ice caps and glaciers, as proven by unequivocal evidence. This ice all melts into water, which would obviously raise the amount of water in the water. This has a direct effect on coastal cities. The oceans are not rising by ice melting alone. Global warming also warms the oceans. As water warms, the atoms become less dense, making the oceans spread. But as they are against a landmass, the water would rise. Therefore, the oceans are expanding and rising because of melting sea ice AND warmer oceans. 


Sea level rise isn't evenly distributed on all U.S. coasts. Changes in sea level are affected by many factors. Changes in global ocean circulations can affect sea-level rise. Since the 1960s, sea-level rise has increased the flooding risk of many coastal communities by a factor of 5 to 10. The Fourth National Climate Assessment writes, "The frequency, depth, and extent of tidal flooding are expected to continue to increase in the future, as is the more severe flooding associated with coastal storms, such as hurricanes and nor’easters."


Rising sea levels can result in the damaging of infrastructures such as the electric grid, roads, and bridges. Coastal cities can be flooded by rising sea levels. Infrastructure design, operation, financing principles, and regulatory standards typically do not account for a changing climate. Current risk management does not typically consider the risk of infrastructure failure because of multiplying extreme weather effects.


Ports and other coastal facilities can be destroyed by flooding. This would dramatically upset cargo imports and exports in any major city, having a direct impact on supplies and the economy.


Tunnels are essential to many cities, and as coastal flooding and heavy precipitation increase, tunnels will be breached and flooded more often. 



Damages to Water Infrastructure

Water infrastructure designed today needs to take into account multiplying extreme weather in the future. Yet, this is still not being taken into account, and water infrastructure will continue to remain at risk until we mitigate climate change. Heavy rainwater can overwhelm water treatment and pollute reservoirs with untreated water.



Damages to Electrical Infrastructure

Energy grids are also infrastructure. They deliver all the electricity we use around, including to homes from power plants. Even without climate change, extreme weather events knock down power lines and are the main contributor to long-lasting power outages.


Energy Demand

Energy demand is changing because, in summer, the higher temperatures demand more energy for additional cooling, and in winter, the higher temperatures demand less energy because less heating is necessary.


Power Lines

Extreme weather threatens power lines. Winds, rain and ice storms and wildfires can damage transmissions and distribution towers/lines, while extreme heat reduces their capacity. Furthermore, flooding can damage underground lines and substations. 


Renewable Energy

Extreme winds damage solar and wind infrastructure and increasing temperatures reduce their generating capacity. Drought and reduced runoff reduce hydroelectric production. On the flip side, increased flooding increases the risk of damage to hydroelectric plants. Reduced water availability can stunt geothermal energy production. Higher air and water temperatures can reduce geothermal power plant efficiency and capacity.

Fossil Fuel Production

Reduced water availability reduces the ability to frack, mine, and drill for fossil fuels, and reduces fuel refining processes. Thawing permafrost impacts accessibility. Oil refineries are at damage risk from extreme weather and flooding.

Fossil Fuel Transportation

Flooding and extreme weather damage pipelines and pumping stations, as well as gas stations and pumping outlets Flooding damages low-lying areas, roads, bridges, ports, and storage facilities that fossil fuel companies use.



Impact on Goods and Services

Climate change impacts freshwater availability, compromising a city's ability to provide for citizens. Climate change also threatens food security. Loss of electricity, as previously stated, can cause mass food spoilage across the city. With the loss of electricity, many businesses cannot run and consumers aren't able to get the goods they need.


The limited water availability threatens a fire department's effectiveness. Hospitals need electricity to run. In short, climate change can, directly and indirectly, impact the goods and services of a city.



Transportation Impacts in Urban and Rural Areas

There are many transportation impacts in urban and rural areas. Heat, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise, and heavy precipitation threaten a multitude of factors, including bridges, roadways, airports, ports, railways, and public transit options. Coastal flooding/sea level rise and heavy precipitation also threaten tunnels. 


High temperatures can stress the structural integrity of bridges. Rail tracks extend and weaken in higher temperatures, occasionally bending. Heat also makes it harder for an airplane to gain lift. Similar to railways, roadways can expand and weaken, cracking and creating dangerous holes in the road. It can also cause vehicles to overheat.


Disruptions to transportation in urban areas can grind the entire city to a standstill, literally. Cities are already very congested, but when more roadways are compromised, it is increased. In some cities, bridges and tunnels are the only ways in or out. If tunnels are flooded, it would put stress on the bridges to carry all the people entering and exiting the city. However, in cities, many people walk, so transportation impacts, other than subways, would not have a terrible impact on their day-to-day lives. In addition, cities are better about compensating for the loss of a mode of transportation. For instance, after Superstorm Sandy, the New York City subway system was offline. The city provided more buses to cover the routes of the subways. 


On the contrary, suburban and rural areas use transportation from just outside their home to get wherever they need to go. If a road was compromised in a suburban or rural area, it would be harder to fix and compensate for and would have a direct impact on the citizens' day-to-day lives. Rural areas, compared to urban areas, have fewer options to pay for damages.



Urban Response to Climate Change

While visiting the Solutions pages will give a general idea of mitigation, the effects described have appropriate adaptation strategies. No matter what, worldwide mitigation strategies including renewable energy, electric cars, and energy efficiency are still necessary.


Urban cities need targeted coordination that addresses the vulnerability of urban systems. This may include government agencies and public or private corporations that help improve climate resilience.


Cities also have to look forward, including investment planning. New buildings being constructed and designed must be energy efficient, including insulated walls and reflective roofs. Green infrastructure is key to future planning. Green roofs are critical because they absorb excess heat and precipitation, making it easier to deal with hotter summers. It also insulates the building in the winter, so it is more energy-efficient. 


To protect against sea-level rise, many cities are looking into constructing seawalls and pumps, as well as other engineering solutions. 

Ocean Circulation and Climate Change

The Atlantic Ocean Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) moves warm, salty water from the lower latitudes to the poles of the Earth through the Atlantic Ocean. In the northern Atlantic Ocean, the water cools and sinks, then travels southward as deep water. As the atmosphere warms, the waters AMOC carries north will radiate less heat, and the freshwater from melting ice sheets will dilute the water. Both of these factors would weaken the entire AMOC, affecting poleward heat transport, regional climate, sea-level rise along the East Coast of the United States, and the overall response of the Earth’s climate system to human-induced change.

Extreme Weather
Sea Level
Water Infrastructure
Electrical Infrastructure
Impact on Goods and Sevices
Transportation Infrastructure
Urban Adaptation
Ocean Circulation

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