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Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

  • 1.  Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-05-2018 05:03 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-05-2018 05:03 PM

    A news post on ASCE Smartbrief caught my attention. It directs to the website: https://airport-technology.com that highlights the recent flooding of Kansai International Airport in Japan and discusses the potential effects of rising sea level on low lying airports around the world (some 34 around the world – 13 in USA). Although sea level rise is silently engulfing our low-lying coasts – coastal waterfront and in-water developments and structures of urban areas, and of port and marine installations – only incidences like this draw media attention.  

    While scientific predictions are stuck with uncertainties, and hardly agree on the rate or magnitude of accelerated sea level rise – the consequences of global warming on sea level, on enhancement of wave and storm activities are real – certainly occurring in our generation and will continue to demand serious and unwavering attention in time to come. 

    I invite all to share thoughts and experiences on this topic and on potential adaptation methods and strategies.

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Website: https://widecanvas.weebly.com

  • 2.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-06-2018 03:25 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-06-2018 03:24 PM

    Excellent topic to bring up and the concern is real.

    We are working on a few coastal vulnerability assessments that deal with just these uncertainties. Fortunately, there is good practice for incorporating the uncertainty associated with Sea Level Rise (SLR) into hazards assessments. Also, many states have some recommended practice for what levels of SLR to consider.

    On the other end of the discussion, many of the assessments I am aware are being conducted on a case-by-case basis due to state requirements (such as in California) or by private entities on their at-risk properties. The lack of coherence here does cause concern that critical infrastructure, where affected, may not be managed with the same resources, setting the stage for large scale damage in future storm scenarios. 

    All in all, a good topic and important consideration for the safety of US infrastructure overall. Unfortunately, I am not aware of a comprehensive national level approach to these dangers and they are being managed at vastly different levels depending on where you are.


    Craig Jones A.M.ASCE
    Integral Consulting, Inc.
    Santa Cruz CA

  • 3.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-08-2018 09:49 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-08-2018 09:48 AM
      |   view attached
    This is certainly an important topic for discussion. I would like to share a picture of Santos Dumont Airport, downtown Rio de Janeiro, during a storm on April 7, 2010, when the airport had to be closed due to exceptionally high waves (>5m) inside Guanabara Bay.

    Not only long term slow-rising sea level must be accounted for, but it is my opinion that storm waves which are still unpredictable in the long term may be a much more serious problem.

    Because of the complex network of air routes, shutting down an airport for 6 hours may have a dramatic impact. On that day, in Rio de Janeiro, all traffic was moved to the International Airport.

    Claudio Neves M.ASCE
    Federal University of Rio De Janeiro
    Rio de Janeiro

  • 4.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-11-2018 07:57 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-11-2018 09:53 AM
    Unfortunately, until the US Government accepts climate change and the hazards caused by it, I believe that a national effort will not occur.

    John Wood P.E., M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Pittsburgh PA

  • 5.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-10-2018 10:09 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-10-2018 10:09 AM
    Great points by all.  In addition to SLR, we also consider airport functionality dependent on increasing heat, temperature volatility/freeze-thaw, and increasing intensity/frequency of precipitation events.  The ASCE Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate is currently working on a project to score the relative near-term/long-term vulnerabilities of different infrastructure categories (including aviation) to climate stressor impacts (e.g., overheating, flooding due to cloud bursts, lower air density/increased wind gusts, deterioration of materials/equipment, etc.).  Airports, like transit infrastructure, present unique vulnerabilities due to a critical role played in the connection of goods, services and people, as well as an interdependency with all other infrastructure (e.g., shared risks to essential electrical, telecommunications, fueling, or surface access infrastructure).

    Airports, typically expansive, open, low-lying and flat, protected by a flood wall or berm for the surge may need to manage substantial amounts of stormwater (and groundwater/seepage) that cannot be drained by gravity due to the hydrostatic pressure of seawater beyond the boundary of protection.  Grades/equipment elevations can be raised (to a limit) and internal water can be stored and/or pumped over the design flood elevation, but this all adds substantial costs to a project.  Further research on compound flooding and the weak dependence of rainfall intensity during coastal storm surge events (and future changes to this relationship due to climate change) can add significant value to projects.

    Robert Fields P.E., M.ASCE
    New York NY
    (646) 438-1661

  • 6.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-11-2018 05:06 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-11-2018 05:05 PM
    We have seen record rainfalls associated with coastal storms​, which are also associated with surge events and can easily occur simultaneously with astronomical high tides.  While there may not be a direct casual relationship, they certainly are not independent. 

    A modest increase in sea level, or a small degree of subsidence, both of which are well documented in many areas, will make any of these events much more destructive.

    While this may seem obvious to us, it may be worth pointing to those who don't believe that climate change exists that this is not speculation on what future climate change may bring, it is a matter of record for the existing climate.

    William Forbes MASCE, PE, ME, BCEE
    Senior Principal Engineer/Vice President of Engineering
    Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corporation
    Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • 7.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-13-2018 02:29 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-13-2018 02:29 PM

    The topic stimulated some thoughtful and excellent responses and contributions – thanks to all.

    Despite uncertainties, we are all on the same page – skeptics or realists – waking up to the facts of increasingly frequent and trend-setting incidences and consequences of climate change. As pointed out by many, the most noticeable such events are the combined effects of rising sea, high tide and storm activities exposing the flooding vulnerability of low lying areas – the coastal airports like the Kansai and Rio – for that matter all waterfront infrastructure and developments. One should not be surprised if such events would continue to attract our attention time and again in the future.

    As pointed by Robert E Fields, there are more and broader aspects of climate change consequences – and hope that the ASCE initiative would yield valuable insights and results benefiting us all.      

    Apart from coordinated efforts to develop methods and adaptation strategies for existing coastal infrastructure – engineers are doing and have the responsibility to discourage, and advise against developments – in particular real estate ventures – into the already crowded low-lying coastal landscape. Because there is a limit to what can be done against an encroaching sea.

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Website: https://widecanvas.weebly.com

  • 8.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-14-2018 02:53 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-14-2018 02:53 PM
    Thanks for the discussion.  
    I leave you this quote which I found a few months ago...

    "If you start paying attention at the moment that the wind gets strong and take everything as given at that moment, where the buildings are, where all the people are, where the economic activity is, then you have a limited number of options about what to do about it,"-  University of Delaware Professor Rachel Davidson.

    Let us hope that our clients and governmental leaders head our advice.


    Douglas Mann P.E., D.CE, M.ASCE
    Lead Coastal Engineer
    Douglas Mann
    Lake Worth FL
    (561) 434-7539

  • 9.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-15-2018 10:26 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-15-2018 10:25 AM
    Thank you Douglas. It all makes sense.
    Have a great weekend.

  • 10.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 12-16-2018 10:08 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-16-2018 10:08 PM

    Motivated by your message, the discussion which followed, and the documents which have been referenced, I decided to take a look at Brazilian airports. 

    In the State of Rio de Janeiro, 6 airports are located at elevation below 4m above MSL (including Santos Dumont) and 2 at elevation below 9m above MSL (including Rio de Janeiro International). Among the International Airports of State capitals, 5 of them are located below 10m above MSL. A total of 34 airports are located below 10m.

    This data requires to be verified more closely, specially identifying the elevation, but it is a significant piece of information for starting a research thread. In addition, it should be investigated whether the airports would be accessible or turn into safe islands in the middle of large flooded areas.

    The vulnerability of the 3 airports in the City of Rio de Janeiro has been addressed in a recent report written by a multidisciplinary team about possible responses to climate changes. I was surprised, though, to find out how vulnerable other airports in the State of Rio de Janeiro and in Brazil were.

    Your thread turns out to be very inspiring for civil engineering education, Dilip and coleagues. I will certainly include it as a homework-challenge in my classes.

    The issue goes well beyond the basic question "where does all that water go?" for us civil and coastal engineers. Urban planners, economists, social workers, among other professionals should also be brought to this discussion. And hopefully we, the citizens who will ultimately undergo the consequences of climate changes, may be able to send a clearer message to those who sometimes make wrong decisions in our name.

    Claudio Neves M.ASCE
    Federal University of Rio De Janeiro
    Rio de Janeiro

  • 11.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 06-07-2019 02:43 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-07-2019 02:42 PM
      |   view attached

    Back in December 2018, we had some great discussions about the implications of and challenges associated with facing the threat of sea level rise on low lying airports. Needless to say that all civil infrastructure in coastal areas face similar problems. And we come across news from across the world, almost on daily basis – how sea is encroaching into our yard – perhaps not so slowly anymore (as many scientists once predicted) – but with all the fury of associated impacts of climate change.  

    I came across an ASCE report (see the attached) rightly touching the core issue. It is a fascinating and concise guide – designed to help analyzing the problem toward better planning and implementation of civil infrastructure – to face the reality of climate change and sea level rise.

    Let us have some more rejuvenated discussions on this important topic.

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Website: https://widecanvas.weebly.com

  • 12.  RE: Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Airports

    Posted 06-13-2019 11:57 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-13-2019 11:57 AM

    Perhaps – a quick review of the ASCE document is useful. Built upon the broad consequences of climate change and associated effects – the document presents 4 different future world scenarios (Resilient Cities; Progressive Megacities; Dispersed Settlements; and Unequal Enclaves) based on 6 identified trends (Climate Change; Alternative Energy; High-tech Construction/Advanced Materials; Autonomous Ground Vehicles; Smart Cities; and Policy and Funding) – that comes in with different degrees of intensities. With the suggestions of – how the civil engineering profession as a whole, specifically those at the forefront of engineering and technological innovation – should transform to cater to the needs of the future. The primary trigger of the 6 trends is climate change.

    As many of you have noticed already – this document has not addressed many issues associated with sea level rise. Somehow, I have the feeling that some of the trends and scenarios are so futuristic and visionary – that they almost give the impression of something unrealistic. They may however become usefully relevant down the road – but then many trends would likely change in intensity, or likely to shift in priorities.

    One of the burning questions that bother many coastal professionals – is how to develop a meaningful adaptation strategy/policy – for civil infrastructure in many of our cities, townships and neighborhoods – located in low lying coastal areas and river valleys/floodplains. Works are being done by different authorities/agencies separately, but it seems, the authors of this ASCE report have not been bothered by this concern (or perhaps they may have been – but the concerns were beyond the scope, or are inked in supporting documents?).

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Website: https://widecanvas.weebly.com