Nav: Home

As climate changes, small increases in rainfall may cause widespread road outages

May 08, 2019

TROY, N.Y. -- As more rain falls on a warming planet, a new computer model shows that it may not take a downpour to cause widespread disruption of road networks. The model combined data on road networks with the hills and valleys of topography to reveal "tipping points" at which even small localized increases in rain cause widespread road outages.

The findings, which were tested using data from the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area, were published today in Nature Communications.

"To prepare for climate change, we have to know where flooding leads to the biggest disruptions in transportation routes. Network science typically points to the biggest interactions, or the most heavily traveled routes. That's not what we see here," said Jianxi Gao, an assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and lead author of the study. "A little bit of flood-induced damage can cause abrupt widespread failures."

Gao, a network scientist, worked with environmental scientists at Beijing Normal University and a physicist at Boston University to reconcile traditional network science models that predict how specific disruptions impact a road network with environmental science models that predict how topography influences flooding. Traditional network science predicts continuous levels of damage, in which case knocking out minor roads or intersections would cause only minor damage to the network. But because of how water flows over land, adding topographical information yields a more accurate prediction.

In Florida, an increase from 30mm to 35mm of rainfall knocked out 50 percent of the road network. And in New York, Gao found that runoff greater than 45mm isolated the northeastern part of the state from the interior of the United States.

In the Hunan province of China, an increase from 25mm to 30mm of rainfall knocked out 42 percent of the provincial road network. In the Sichuan province, an increase from 95mm to 100mm in rainfall knock out 48.7 percent of the provincial road network. And overall, and an increase from 160mm to 165mm of rainfall knocked out 17.3 percent of road network in China and abruptly isolated the western part of mainland China.

The researchers validated their model by comparing predicted results with observed road outages in Houston and South East Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey. Their model predicted 90.6 percent of reported road closures and 94.1 percent of reported flooded streets.

"We cracked the data. Hurricane Harvey caused some of the most extensive road outages in U.S. history, and our model predicted that damage," Gao said. "Adding 3D information causes more unusual failure patterns than we expected, but now we have developed the mathematical equations to predict those patterns."
-end-
Gao was joined in the research by Weiping Wang and Saini Yang of Beijing Normal University, and H. Eugene Stanley of Boston University. At Rensselaer, the research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, and a grant from the Knowledge and Innovation Program at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America's first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit http://www.rpi.edu.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".