There’s a lot of data on climate change. But has any been shared with the folks who engineer roads?

There’s been a lot of research over the years tracking a gradual increase in the average temperature, acidity of the oceans, rising sea levels, the greater frequency of violent storms, and on and on.

There’s been a lot of squabbling among politicians over what has caused those things (Factories? Cow flatulence?) , but the numbers are the numbers. Average temperatures here in the United States have been rising by almost a half a degree per decade since the 1970s, and nine of the 10 hottest years on record have come since 2000.

So yes, even though we still occasionally have snowstorms (check your Facebook feed the first day school is called off this winter and watch the Al Gore jokes fly), the globe is warming, statistically speaking.

The question researchers at the University of Southern Maine and the University of New Hampshire are asking is: Has anybody told the guys who build the roads?

Scientists with the two schools say we may want to be thinking about new ways to engineer our infrastructure considering what are becoming the new norms for heat absorption, pounding rains and rising flood plains.

A flooded, icy downtown Portland road likely built before area engineers realized how much flooding and ice roads will really be dealing with over the next century. (Photo courtesy of USM)

USM announced this week it’s partnering with UNH on a project to create a clearinghouse of climate change information accessible to the engineering and public services community. That project, the local university announced, has now been awarded a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Leading the way on the USM side of things is Jack Kartez, professor of community planning and development at the university’s Muskie School of Public Service.

According to representatives of the school, the assumption that this data is already being shared in a useful way with the people who have to think about building and maintaining our infrastructure is naive.

Stated UNH Professor of Civil Engineering Jennifer Jacobs in this week’s announcement:

This grant aims to fill a very big void in the field. The climate change community and the infrastructure engineers are not yet talking. They’re not at the same meetings, and they’re not in the same departments at universities.

Added Jo Daniel, a fellow faculty member at UNH:

If climate is changing, using weather data from 20 years ago is not going to represent what the road will experience in the next 20 years.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.