Adaptation to a Non-steady Coastal Environment: Designing Infrastructure in a Non-Steady World

By W. Tad Pfeffer.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Sea level rise is among the most tangible and costly global changes facing societies and economies worldwide in the near future. Geophysical research is underway to forecast future sea level rise on time scales that are most useful for societal planning and to quantify the uncertainties in those forecasts. However, planning and the response to future sea level rise is complicated by the fact that there is no particular steady value at which future sea level is likely to stabilize and around which coastal infrastructure can be built according to principles and practices that guide design and infra- structure development at large scales today. Research on sea level rise and the design and adaptation of infrastructure in response to sea level rise require a greater degree of collaboration between scientists and designers than presently exists. Among the questions that both communities need to address are: How do societies and individuals approach the task of designing (and thinking about) the built environment under conditions that are essentially in a permanent state of change? What will future coastal cities and infrastructure look like if the position of the coast migrates steadily inland at (for example) 5 km/century? In order for scientists to provide useful predictions, the critical time horizons (e.g. decades rather than centuries) must be communicated by designers; in order for designers to act on optimal information, scientists must provide rates of sea level rise on those time scales along with robust estimates of uncertainty. Achieving this level of interaction requires that both communities work to optimize the communication between physical scientists studying environmental change and designers, architects, and engineers developing the means by which we will occupy that environment.

Keywords: Coastal Infrastructure, Sea Level Rise, Design

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.81-92. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.892MB).

Prof. W. Tad Pfeffer

Professor, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research , Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

Tad Pfeffer is a glaciologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a Fellow of the University’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering. Pfeffer’s research is focused on glacier mechanics and dynamics, and particularly on dynamics of ocean-ending glaciers, iceberg calving, and glacier contributions to sea level. He has studied and photographed glaciers for more than 30 years in Alaska, Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and Africa. He has served as an advisor to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and is presently a lead author on the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program’s Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost Assessment (SWIPA). Pfeffer is the author of two books, The Opening of a New Landscape: Columbia Glacier at Mid-Retreat (American Geophysical Union, 2007), and the forthcoming The Hand of the Small Town Builder: Camps, Cottages, and the Vernacular Adaptation of Architecture in Early 20th-Century New England, to be published by David R Godine in 2011.