A rise in sea levels and other changes fueled by global warming threaten roads, rail lines, ports, airports and other important infrastructure, and policymakers and planners should be acting now to avoid or mitigate their effects, according to new government reports.
While increased heat and "intense precipitation events" threaten these structures, the greatest and most immediate potential impact is coastal flooding, according to one of the reports issued Tuesday by an expert panel convened by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
Another study, a multiagency effort led by the Environmental Protection Agency, sounds a similar warning on coastal infrastructure but adds that natural features such as beaches and wetlands are also threatened by encroaching saltwater.
The reports are not the first to point out that rising seas, inevitable in a warming world, are a major threat. For example, in a report last September, the Miami-Dade County Climate Change Task Force noted that a 2-foot rise by the year 2100, the prediction of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "would make life in South Florida very difficult for everyone."
The new reports note that coastal areas are thickly populated, economically important and gaining people and investment by the day, even as scientific knowledge of the risks they face increases. Use of this knowledge by policymakers and planners is "inadequate," the academy panel said.
"It's time for the transportation people to put these things into their thought processes," Henry G. Schwartz Jr., the chairman of the research council panel, said in an interview.