DALLAS — In a story Sept. 22 about warnings by the Texas state climatologist that climate change must force engineers to rethink the design of fail-safe structures, The Associated Press provided an incorrect temperature conversion. An increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be an increase of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, not 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Official: Dam, other designs must consider climate change
The state climatologist says the advent of climate change must bring about a fundamental shift in the way dams and other fail-safe structures are designed so that they withstand ferocious storms that are increasing in frequency
By DAVID WARREN
DALLAS — Climate change means engineers must fundamentally change how they design dams and other fail-safe structures to withstand ferocious storms that are increasing in frequency, according to the Texas state climatologist.
Past storms are no longer a reliable measure by which future projects are designed to withstand, Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.
He told a conference of civil engineers Friday in San Marcos that climate change means that powerful storms are unleashing significantly more rain than they did decades ago.
An increase in sea surface temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) can result in a roughly 10 percent increase in the amount of rain a storm produces. That 10 percent increase therefore needs to be considered when dams, nuclear facilities and other structures are designed, he said.
“Not thinking about climate change means you’re already making an implicit assumption about the future that’s probably incorrect,” Nielsen-Gammon later told The Associated Press.
Texas has about 4,000 state-regulated dams, with more than 1,200 considered high risk because their failure would result in the deaths of people nearby, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
Nielsen-Gammon said the size of a dam isn’t so much of a concern as the amount of water that’s coming over the dam or surging around it, potentially comprising its integrity. A primary concern as Harvey savaged Southeast Texas last month, and dropped more than 50 inches of rain across the region, was two reservoirs in west Houston that drew concern from public safety officials who moved to release water from them to lessen pressure on their banks.
The relationship between climate change and hurricanes remains uncertain, as the Chronicle noted in its Friday report, but there’s a consensus among scientists that the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is raising global temperatures and warming the oceans. This in turn brings about greater evaporation and moisture that leads to more extreme rains.
So how was Nielsen-Gammon’s warning received by a roomful of civil engineers being asked to rethink risk models and other assumptions?
“I wasn’t thrown out of the room and there wasn’t a standing ovation,” he said.
It’s difficult to welcome a message that asks for years of training and certitude to be fundamentally reconsidered, he said.
“I do not envy the challenges that engineers face in actually having to tackle that responsibility,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
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