How Changes in the Sea Level Influence Transport Logistics: The Future and Now

How Changes in the Sea Level Influence Transport Logistics: The Future and Now

Posted on 17 Jan 2018

All images used in this article were obtained by using a new technology called Cloudless, which was developed by the OpenWeatherMap company. This is a new, non-traditional approach to creating a low cloud cover of Earth using low and medium resolution satellite images. At the heart of this approach lie the principles used in processing Big Data and machine-learning algorithms.
More information about the Cloudless technology can be found here

One of the most important physical consequences of global warming is the rise in sea level. Right now, the sea level is rising slowly enough, but, according to forecasts, this process will accelerate over time. This will affect the livelihoods of many coastal regions that will experience flooding. This means that the sea transport network may be seriously affected.
Shoreline erosion and land loss rates will be critical for planning coastal infrastructure.

What transport sites will suffer in future sea level rises?

On the West Coast of the US, Los Angeles hosts the busiest container port in the US with more than 100 ports serving ocean vessels.  Here, the relative change in sea level is superimposed on local changes in the range of tides and currents.

It is important to realize that, currently, a local rise in sea level is still less important than any changes in tides and storm intensity.
In coastal California, where El Niño is increasing the sea level by about 30 cm, the maximum change in sea level due to tides or storm surges is up to 60 cm and 300 cm. This figure is large compared to the expected rise in sea level at the local level (20 cm).
However, for California airports in San Francisco and Oakland, which have field grades of 3.4 and 1.8 meters, respectively, and can be flooded under conditions of extreme tides and floods, a local rise in sea level can strongly exacerbate the situation.

Research using model forecasts for rises in sea level, which was conducted for coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean with important transport infrastructures, allows scientists to identify areas that may be below sea level for periods of 25, 50, and 100 years.

For example, in Hampton, Virginia, which hosts the largest naval base in the world, there are two civilian airports, a military transport control center, several military bases connected by extensive networks of bridges and tunnels, and the second largest cargo port on the East Coast. All transport infrastructures are located in areas of where the local sea level is rising and, with a high level of certainty, will be flooded.

Most of the railroad of the East Coast was laid about 150 years ago when the level of the Earth, in comparison with the sea level, was higher. As a result, many track sections and stations are already low enough to be flooded during powerful storms. More frequent floods on roads and railways near estuaries can create an effect similar to a rising sea level during tides and storms.

A subsequent rise in sea level is also necessary to consider when transporting loads through pipelines at loading and unloading quays.
In ports along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Since transport infrastructure can affect the livelihoods and development of coastal areas far beyond the life cycle of a road, railway bridge, or even an airport, the ability of coastal regions to adapt to climate change can be facilitated or hindered by decisions made by transport officials today.
Forecast changes in coastlines should be considered when planning transport logistics.

One must also take into account a rise in the sea level when replacing and redesigning facilities located on the ocean coast that are designed for a working, economic life of 50 years or less. Such facilities include airports, dams and canals, seaports, port facilities, navigation channels, docking areas and navigation gates, berths, and dry and wet docks. A thorough risk analysis may be needed for infrastructure like large airports that were built long ago in coastal areas.